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Land Ownership --US --Texas. Land Ownership and the Cadastre. the cadastre : an official register of the boundaries (location), quantity, value and ownership of land often legally based on written descriptions, not maps

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Land Ownership --US --Texas

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land ownership us texas

Land Ownership --US--Texas

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS

land ownership and the cadastre
Land Ownership and the Cadastre
  • the cadastre: an official register of the boundaries (location), quantity, value and ownership of land
    • often legally based on written descriptions, not maps
    • descriptions may be inconsistent with maps and/or with “accepted practice/common knowledge” (e.g. a fence line)
    • legal description, map, value information often held by different organizational units
  • for most of US, foundation is the Public Land Survey System (PLSS):
    • established by Ordinance of Continental Congress in 1785
    • amended multiple times since therefore rules/procedures/outcome may differ based on time area originally surveyed
    • currently administered by US Bureau of Land Management
    • does NOT apply in: original 13 colonies, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Hawaii, Texas; (Ohio also has many variations)

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS

descriptions of land ownership

160 acres



Descriptions of Land Ownership

Section 11: 640 acres

  • Sectional descriptions:
    • N1/2 (of the) SW1/4 (of the) SW1/4 (of) Section 11 (within township) T30S, Range68W (from the) 6th. P.M. (principal meridian), containing approx 20.06 acres
  • metes and bounds (possibly with origin tied to a Section corner)
    • from a point 12,288ft south and 5,380.98 feet west of (...the NE corner of Section 11) running west 53.4ft; thence S. 9°- 19” E. 25.6 feet; thence...thence to the beginning, containing 1,945.10 square feet
  • Plat descriptions (with possible reference to a map):
    • being Lot 9 in Block G of Highland Addition No. 3 in the City of Richardson,Texas (according to map thereof recorded in Vol. 23, Page 157 of the Map records of Dallas County)
  • natural objects and adjoiners descriptions:
    • beginning at a stone in Green Hill Lane... !!!

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS

us public land survey system
US Public Land Survey System
  • Section 11, Twn 30 S, Rng 68 West, of the 6th Principal Meridian
    • 24 by 24 mile quadrangles set from a principal meridian (e.g 6th P.M. is in Kansas) and a base line (Kansas/Nebraska line for the 6th)
      • north side <24mi ‘cos of convergence
      • quadrangles used for surveying but not identification
    • each quadrangle divided into 16 townships, each 6 by 6 miles (except for north side)
      • townships numbered north and south from base line (e.g. T30S)
      • ranges numbered east and west from meridian (e.g. R68W)
    • each township divided into 36 sections, each 1 by 1 mile (except for the last section in each row on the west (if west of the meridian) or the east (if east of the meridian)
      • sections numbered by continuously walking the rows, starting in the northeast corner
    • each section has 640 acres and may be further divided into:
      • four quadrants, or quarter sections, having 160 acres each
      • 16 quarter-quarter sections, having 40 acres each.
      • In rural areas, a survey monument should exist at each section corner (approx 2.8 million), and in some cases at quarter section corners also

(Its a raster system!!)

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS

definitions associated with plss
Definitions Associated with PLSS

Initial point: the intersection of the principal meridian and base line of the survey

principal meridian: a line running N/S thru the initial point along a true meridian of longitude

base line: a line running E/W thru the initial point along a true parallel of latitude

guide meridians: lines extending N/S from base line, usually at intervals of 24 miles east and west of principal meridian

standard parallels: (correction lines) lines extending E/W from PM, usually at intervals of 24 miles north and south of base line

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS

gis and the cadastre
GIS and the Cadastre
  • Most Cadastral recording systems are non-coordinate based, whereas GIS is coordinate-based (lat/long or XY)
  • generates technical challenge to incorporate into GIS
  • special software solutions required e.g. Arc/INFO COGO (coordinate geometry) for metes and bounds
  • although software could reproduce the PLSS mathematically, this would not suffice legally since the legally correct corner for a section is its surveyed monument, even if the monument is in the “wrong” place or even missing--and it is often both!
  • Often, GIS is the first time properties have been simultaneously mapped and many anomalies are revealed:
    • overlapping property boundaries
    • property under water, etc.

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS




P.M. (e.g 6th)

1st Standard Parallel North









2nd Guide Meridian East

1st Standard Parallel South


6th Principal Meridian

Base line for 6th P.M.







2nd Standard Parallel South

Quadrangles (24x24 miles)

New Mexico P.M

Indian P.M.



Note: convergence is grossly exaggerated;

meridians are straight and true north;

parallels are curved on the ground












(1x1 mile)



6 5 4 3 2 1



7 8 9 10 11 12


range line


18 17 16 15 14 13


19 20 21 22 23 24



30 29 28 27 26 25

T6S, R2W

of the 6th PM

31 32 33 34 35 36

township line

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS

land ownership in texas

Land Ownership in Texas

Jack Lyle, RPLS

University of Texas at Dallas

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS

the plss does not apply in texas
The PLSS Does NOT Apply in Texas

The Texas land system is NOT based on the United States’ PLSS but rather on a sequential grant system which evolved during Texas’ “Six Flags” history.

Texas was originally a Spanish possession, then a Mexican territory, then an independent republic, a US State, a Confederate State, and, finally, a US State again.

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS

spanish and mexican land grants
Spanish and Mexican Land Grants

Prior to 1821, Texas was a province of Spain. One of the famous Spanish land grants was to Moses Austin in 1821 to settle 300 American families in Texas.

Mexico overthrew the Spanish government in 1821 and continued the policy of making “empresario” grants to Americans and others (Irish, Germans, etc.). Lands were granted by “metes and bounds”.

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS

metes and bounds conveyances
Metes and Bounds Conveyances

Lands were not located in relation to an overall framework like the section/township system, but rather were individual, sequential conveyances described by metes and bounds.

Metes – Calls for course and distance between boundary corners (South 45° West 1900 varas). Descriptive but not necessarily locative.

Bounds – Calls for natural, artificial, and legal monuments that mark the boundaries of the land. These are the calls that actually “locate” the land being described.

[The vara was set by statute in 1919 to be 33.33 inches or 2.777...

feet. It is still the standard unit of measurement in Texas. Prior to

1919, there were varying ideas about the length of the vara.]

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS

sequential conveyances
Sequential Conveyances

Unlike the PLSS where all the sections in a township are legally created simultaneously, sequential conveyances are created over a period of time, and “senior” rights develop.

Since each conveyance is created independently, there is a possibility of vacancy (gap) and overlap between and among grants

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS

the republic of texas
The Republic of Texas

The newly formed Republic in 1836 recognized all valid grants made by the Spanish and Mexican governments.

The Constitution of 1836 also provided that “all persons except Africans and Indians living in Texas on Declaration of Independence are entitled to a headright Grant… heads of families one league and one labor; single men seventeen years or older, one third of a league.

League- 5000 varas square (about 4430 acres)

Labor – 1000 varas square (about 177 acres)

(A vara is 2.77.. feet. There are 640 acres in a square mile.)

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS

subsequent grants by the republic
Subsequent Grants by the Republic

Headrights and Bounties – Grants made to newcomers to encourage settlement.

Donations to Veterans- Grants to veterans of San Jacinto and to the families of men killed at the Alamo

Land Sold to Pay Public Debt – Land “script” was sold in the US for 50 cents per acre by act of 1836.

Grants for Education – 50 leagues (221,400 acres) were set aside to found two universities

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS


Since Texas as an independent country had accumulated an approximately $8 million national debt, the US Senate was unwilling to admit it as a state, but a compromise was reached:

Texas would be responsible for its own public debt, but would retain title to its own public lands as an asset to liquidate that debt.

So, any land In Texas owned by the US Government was acquired by purchase or donation. The sovereign in Texas is Texas.

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS

state grants
State Grants

Grants for Internal Improvements

Grants to pay Public debts

Grants to Railroads

Grants for Education

Grants for County Schools

Legislation making all public land part of the permanent School Fund

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS

texas land system
Texas Land System

A series of sequential, metes and bounds conveyances of land from the sovereign to other ownership.

All descriptions of grant conveyances are recorded with the General Land Office in Austin

Each original grant is assigned an “abstract” number to track subsequent conveyances within the original grant.

Subsequent conveyances within abstracts are recorded at the appropriate county courthouse.

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS

a patchwork quilt
A Patchwork Quilt

The result is a “patchwork quilt” of sequential conveyances prone to gaps and overlaps whose construction is predicated on correct application of statute and case law instead of purely geometrical constructions.

Registered Professional Land Surveyors in Texas are expert at making measurements and interpreting written descriptions to establish land boundaries.

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS

collin county abstracts example
Collin County Abstracts Example

POEC 6381 Intro to GIS