From Deed to Plat Map, Part 1

Creating a Plat Map from a Metes and Bounds Land Description: A New Jersey Example.

Part 1 demonstrates the preparatory work involved prior to the actual drawing of the plat map.

LAND. It was the opportunity to own land that led many of our ancestors to cross the ocean to America and, in some cases, traverse the continent. Since land was of vital importance to our ancestors, it should be equally important to genealogists wanting to form a more complete picture of their ancestors’ lives.

Even with the large numbers of original documents now online, deeds for New Jersey are not yet among them. So, I traveled to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah last fall where I spent three days reading microfilm and creating digital copies of deeds involving my Carson family and their associates who lived near Trenton, the state capitol of New Jersey.

One of the deeds I examined was an 1847 Sheriff’s Deed of two parcels confiscated by Mercer County Sheriff John Hammell to satisfy a judgment returned by the State Supreme Court of New Jersey against Aaron Eldridge in favor of Daniel Carson. The lands were formerly owned and occupied by Abraham Rogers, deceased.

Portion of a deed between John Hammell, Sheriff of Mercer County, New Jersey to Daniel Carson of East Windsor Township. (Click this or any other image to enlarge.)

I transcribed this deed using my word processing software. Recall that a transcription
is “an exact copy”. [1] To fully analyze a record, we must spend some time with it. For me, the process of converting handwritten records into documents in my word processor facilitates both my understanding of the record and later recall of that record. Transcribing a record also allows me to search my digital files and retrieve the transcribed text for later use in research reports and the like.

Portion of my transcription of the 1847 deed. I capitalized the names of the parties mentioned within the body of the transcription for easier identification.

The complete metes and bounds description of this land from this deed is as follows:

“…Beginning at a stone standing in the middle of the road leading from Cross Keys to the Assunpink Bridge being a corner to George Newell’s lot thence along the middle of the road according to the bearing of the compass in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and thirty two South twenty degrees East twenty nine chains and eighty three links to the corner of John H Hutchinsons land thence along his line South fifty four degrees and a half west ten chains and ten links to a stone corner to the Heirs of Amos Rogers deceased thence along their line North forty seven degrees and three quarters West twenty one chains to a stone in a pond thence north seventy three degrees West nine chains and forty one links to a stone thence north thirty six degrees and a half West eight chains and thirteen links to a stone thence north fourteen degrees and a quarter West four chains and forty one links to Augustus Gordons line in the middle of the road leading from Assunpink Bridge to nottingham Square thence along said line and road north seventy three ^ degrees and three quarters East twenty three chains and ninety seven links to the corner of the aforesaid George Newell’s lot thence along his line South twenty degrees East two chains and two links thence north seventy three degrees and three quarters East five chains to the Beginning containing seventy acres be the same more or less…”

The key to working with survey descriptions like the above is to separate out the calls into corners and lines. Patricia Law Hatcher describes one such method in her book entitled “Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records” (Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books, 2003) : 140-142 that I have successfully used, and will show here today. A line will include both a direction and a distance and a corner is where two survey lines meet, usually delineated by a naturally occurring landmark, such as a stone or a tree. A metes and bounds survey normally will start with a corner and subsequent calls will alternate between lines and corners.

Take the first part of this survey as an example:

Includes landmark
…Beginning at a stone standing in the middle of the road leading from Cross Keys to the Assunpink Bridge being a corner to George Newell’s lot
Includes direction and distance
thence along the middle of the road according to the bearing of the compass in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and thirty two South twenty degrees East twenty nine chains and eighty three links

Working through the calls in the deed, and following Hatcher’s method of visually notating the corners and lines with different symbols, my extracted information looks like this in part:

hamell-to-carson-hatcher-example-cropCorners and lines in the survey description have been separated out as an aid in later platting of the land

I marked the corners with the copyright symbol and used an arrow bullet for the lines, but copyright-arrowyou can use anything that helps you to visually separate the information.


The ultimate goal of this exercise is to get a complete description of the land. You don’t want to miss a call and end up with an incorrect plat map. Using Hatcher’s method will minimize the chances of that happening. My deed transcription and later extract of the land description can be further distilled into the essential elements for the actual platting: the boundary line calls.

A line call in a survey typically includes both a direction and a distance. A chain is a unit of measurement equal to 66 feet. There are 100 links in a chain. [2]

Now that I have a complete description of the boundaries of the land purchased by Daniel Carson, I can begin to actually map, or plat, the land. I will demonstrate that process in my next post using a freely available online tool.


[1] Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Skillbuilding: Transcribing Source Material”, OnBoard 2 (January 1996): 8; Board for Certification of Genealogists ( : accessed 16 Jul 2015).

[2] See image of a Gunter’s surveying chain and description at Wikipedia, “Gunter’s chain,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, ( : accessed 16 Jul 2015).

Digital Organization and File Naming Conventions

Last week I returned from a genealogical research trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. The result of my three days of research was more than one hundred digital images of microfilmed documents, mostly consisting of 19th century New Jersey deeds for Middlesex County and daughter county Mercer, created in 1838. I was in information gathering mode and did not have time to read through more than a few of the documents while on-site. I needed a quick way to catalog my finds so I could see at a glance what I had already scanned and what was still outstanding from my to-do list.

For this project, I chose to first create an Excel spreadsheet where I entered in selected entries from the deed index available on microfilm at the library. Since I am exploring connections between the Tindall and Carson families post-Revolution in the aforementioned counties, I chose to focus on deeds where people with these surnames were grantors and grantees on the same document, or documents that indicated “heirs of” or “estate” or similar verbiage.


Portion of my Excel spreadsheet showing deed research underway on the Tindall family of New Jersey.  [Click to enlarge this or any other photo.]

I then pulled the relevant microfilm, scanned the film, and saved an image file to my FHL 2014 folder on my thumb drive. Every evening when back at the hotel, I copied the contents of the folder to my laptop and to Dropbox for safekeeping.

I chose to save copies of the microfilmed documents as JPG files at 300 dpi or better (depending upon legibility of the microfilm). All saved files were named in a similar fashion, with one example shown below:




Elements of the file name, from left to right
Repository: FHL
Microfilm file number: ####### (7-digits)
Volume number
Page number
Type of document (i.e. deed, death record, etc.)
Miscellaneous: this field may or may not be used; if I imaged only a portion of the full page, I might include “top” or “bottom” or “light” or “dark” depending on how I may have cropped or edited the file.

Note that I use no spaces in the file name, and separate the various elements with a hyphen. This will improve readability and sorting, and if I choose to upload the file to my website, I will not get those %20% space fillers in online URL links.


Files in my Data > Genealogy > FHL 2014 folder

Not only does this file naming convention help me stay organized, it also helps me to maintain the necessary information for later crafting of a source citation. How many times have you gotten a copy of an item, only to later be unable to recall the source of that file or photocopy? By including the repository and the film number in the file name I have that information close at hand, and can later pull title information from the institution’s online catalog. Although not shown above, I typically include an image of the spine of the filmed book to aid me in creating accurate source citations as well.

Assembling the various images that make up one document into a single PDF file and abstracting and transcribing that information will keep me occupied over the next few months. I plan to also plat out the various metes and bounds parcels using DeedMapper (or similar software) at a future date.