Land Book

Definitions Found in Land Records

Taking the Mystery Out of Land Records is now in book form


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Once we have managed to decipher the handwriting on old deeds we are then faced with the problem of trying to understand what the deed is telling us. Here is a list a few of the definitions used in old Deeds. However, when in doubt you might want to check Black's Law Dictionary.


Acquired Lands: Federal Lands obtained by purchase, condemnation, or gift under laws other than public land law.

Administrator / Administratrix: An administrator is a person lawfully appointed, with his assent, by an officer having jurisdiction, to manage and settle the estate of a deceased person who has left no executor, or one who is for the time incompetent or unable to act. If you find this term used in a deed, look for a will or court record. Administrator designates a male, adminstratrix designates a female.

Aliqout parts: A quarter (4) division in public land deeds (land in the public domain).

Application: A formal request for the use or ownership of public lands or resources. In public domain states - these applications are sometimes found with the land grant file but more often the application was discarded when the land was formally granted by the Bureau of Land Management.

Appraiser: Is a person appointed by competent authority to value goods or real estate. Often in old deeds a group of men were selected to serve as a "jury" to value real and personal property. If you run across this term look for additional information in the court and will records.

Appurtenance: This word is found spelled every which way but usually close enough that you recognize it. It means that the right to any and all buildings, right of ways or any other item attached to or situated on the thing being sold passes to the purchaser.

Assigns: Any person or entity the property may be passed on to, by the purchaser, in the future. Normally means the seller will defend the title to the property on behalf of the purchaser and any one in the future who will own the same land.

B.L.W.: The abbreviation for Bounty Land Warranty. If found in an old deed you should research military records.

B.M.: The abbreviation for Bench Mark a term used in surveying, a definite point of a known elevation.

B.L.M.: The abbreviation for Bureau of Land Management. This was the federal agency set up to sell lands within the public domain. Many of this agency's records are now on-line.

Base Line: An imaginary line running east and west used in surveying the public domain.

Bounty Land: A portion of the public domain given to men in lieu of money for military service. If you find this term used in an old deed search for the person's military records. Bear in mind that bounty warrants could be sold for cash.

Boundy: An unspecified amount or number; as a "boundy of land". Usually found in deeds for states using the metes & bounds type of survey. This term is often followed with a reference to an older recorded deed.

Cadastral Survey: A Public Land survey establishing land boundaries for a new state or county.

Chain: A measurement used in a survey. A chain is 66 feet or 100 links. A link is 7.92 inches.

Charter: An instrument in writing from the sovereign power of the country or state, granting or guaranteeing rights. Most often found in colonial records where land was being granted, given, or "loaned" to an individual or group.

Deed: An instrument conveying real property. Prior to the civil war you will also find deeds that convey ownership of slaves which were considered "real property".

Deed of Trust: A mortgage or sometimes a lease.

Degrees: Survey term used most often in metes & bounds surveys using designated compass points. Detailed explanation

Devise: A gift of real property in a will; Devisee is the person who receives the property and the Devisor is the person giving the property.

Disposal: Most often used to designate a transaction of the title of public domain land to an individual or other non-Federal entity.

Encroachment: To intrude unlawfully upon the lands, property or authority of another. This term is found more in court records involving boundary disputes than in old deeds although I seen some old deeds that mentioned changes due to encroachment. I've found court records and these old deeds most often in the court records of metes & bounds states where property lines were established based on flora and fauna or physical features, such as creeks, that either disappeared or changed over time. If found in old deeds look for court records.

Executor / Executrix: A person who is named by testator in their will as the person to settle an estate. Executor designates a male, Executrix designates a female. You will only find this term used in a deed if there was a will. If found in a deed be sure to check will and court records.

Fee Simple: Is ownership with unrestricted rights of disposition.

Field Notes: A term used to describe a type of diary kept by surveyors as a permanent record of the land being surveyed. Many of the details of the survey are included in these notes. Field notes are most often found at the state land office. Many have been microfilmed by the LDS. Field notes may include information on any existing house(s), outbuildings, fields under cultivation and all kinds of other information pertaining to the property being surveyed. Many include drawings of the property being surveyed and lists all adjoining landowners.

Indenture: Normally used to refer to the document itself. "This indenture entered into ....". Also used in a contract binding one person to work for another for a given period of time. Sometimes used to describe a bond.

Inventory: A list of all assets of an estate. These inventories include real and personal property, notes, mortgages or money due the deceased person. If you find a mention of inventory in a deed look for a will and/or court records. The judge appointed a "jury" of men to inventory all the assets of a deceased person and return the inventory to the court.

Final Disposition: A settlement of an estate. Used in the case of a will or probate, meaning there is nothing left to be done to settle the estate.

Grant: Usually refers to a tract of land granted by the government. The Grantee is the person who receives the grant (purchaser) and the Grantor is the person or government (seller).

Grantee: The purchaser or recipient of whatever is being recorded in the deed. Indexes of deed books are normally split between grantee and grantor. You must remember to check them both.

Grantor: The seller or giver of whatever is being recorded in the deed. Indexes of deed books are normally split between grantee and grantor. You must remember to check them both.

Indenture: A written contract or agreement. Sometimes the term is used to mean a mortgage and sometimes it is found used when a minor is being made an apprentice.

Land Warrant: A negotiable government certificate entitling its holder to obtain a certain amount of land that the governing body has the right to dispose of.

Legal Description: A descriptions that describes a piece of property in such a manner that the property cannot be confused with any other piece. In public domain states the description uses Section, Township and Range terms. In metes & bounds and township states the description uses flora & fauna, physical things (like creeks), names of neighbors, chains, degrees, etc.

Legacy: A gift of personal or real property by a Will. If you find this word used check Will and court records

Legatee: The person receiving a gift of personal or real property under the instructions of a Will. If you find this word used check Will and Court records.

Lease: A contract whereby a person or other entity gives another the use of and possession of some type of property for a stated time and stated fee. The Lessee is the receiver of the leased property and the Lessor is the one granting the lease and is also the owner in the majority of cases.

Link: A measurement used in a survey. Equals 7.92 inches

M.L.W.: Military Land Warranty. If you find this used search for military service records.

Meander: Used in metes & bounds states legal descriptions to describe the banks of a body of water. (A creek, river, lake, etc.) or sometimes the boundary of a neighbor's property.

Moiety: A half, an undivided part.

Pace: A measure of distance equaling two and 1/2 feet.

Party of the First Part: Seller (grantor)

Party of the Second Part: Purchaser (grantee)

Patent: a grant of privilege, property or authority made by a government or sovereign of a country to one or more individuals. The patentee is the person receiving the patent. The explanation of the records to search when you find the word patent in a deed is rather long. See Taking the Mystery Out of Land Records.

Real Property: Land (today referred to as Real Estate)

Plat: A drawing of several adjacent pieces of property or a drawing of a single piece of property produced from the legal description of the property(s)

Pole: A unit of measure in a survey. Equals 16 1/2 feet

Presents: Normally found used as "by these presents" meaning by the paper document itself.

Private Land Claim: A patent granted by a foreign government.

Release of Lien: A document filed with the court in which a person or entity releases any claim to the property of another person. Usually filed when a mortgage or loan is paid in full.

Rod: A unit of measure. Equals 16 1/2 feet.

Quitclaim <Quit Claim>: A deed in which a person or other entity agrees to give up any real or possible interest in something. Used most often when a title is not clear. This type of deed is also used in the case of estates when there is doubt as to whether a heir has come claim to property in the estate. Also used when there are boundary disputes to clear a title to a certain piece of land.

Quitrents: Found in old deeds, especially in colonial records. This is a type of "use" fee that is paid yearly on a conveyance of some type. It can be on a piece of property, a grant, a patent or most anything.

Range: A term used in the survey and legal description of public domain states.

Section: A term used in the survey and legal description of public domain states to describe a square of 640 acres or one square mile.

Seized: Used in place of the word "own". The ownership of the item is vested in the grantor and the grantor has the lawful right to sell the property. Usually reads" I am lawfully seized of said land".

Survey: A measured plan and description of a piece of property.

Survey Plat: A map on which land surveys are recorded.

Topography: An exact and scientific description of an area or region.

Town / Township: Used to designate a local government unit and/or a legal description in public domain states. In New England states it is used to describe a government unit much like counties in other states. (See Untangling Townships)

Tract Book: A book used to track the sale/purchase of an individual piece of property from the first transfer of the property from a government or sovereign to the current owner. Found most often in public domain states.

Warranty Deed: A deed warranting that the grantor has a good and clear title to the item being sold. Within this type of deed the seller agrees to defend the title against any claims later made to the property.

Will (Last Will and Testament): A document in which a person sets forth the disposition of their property to take effect after the person's death. A Holographic will is one written by the person making the will. This type of will needs no witnesses. A nuncupative will is an oral will declared by a testator at time of death before witnesses and afterwards reduced to writing - this type of will cannot convey real property. A nuncupative will often results in court cases where heirs are fighting for their right to real property. (For an excellent description of the difference between a "Will" and a "Last Will and Testament" - Visit Bob's Filing Cabinet)


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