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.

Where There’s a Will…

Tracking down the Will of Morris Kelly Sheppard of Ohio on the FamilySearch website

My 3rd-great-grandfather, Samuel Fryman, allegedly born in Virginia in 1807, married as his first wife, Mary Shepherd (aka Shepard, Sheppard, Sheppards etc.) in Belmont County, Ohio in 1832. When research on this line commenced nothing was known of her birth family, siblings or early life, outside of the fact that her father was living at the time of her marriage and that the couple were both residents of Smith Township. Census households headed by Shepherd males in the vicinity suggested possibilities for further research but nothing concrete had been established.

1848-ohio-map-greenleaf-shepherd-locales-starredShepherd families can be found in the starred counties of Belmont, Morgan and Richland counties, Ohio between 1820-1847.

At a later date, I serendipitously pulled a book off the shelf at the local library and found this will abstract linking a Samuel Fryman to a Sheppard man in Richland County, Ohio, several counties and fifteen years removed from the Belmont County marriage. Here is the information from the will abstract, as entered into my genealogy software program:

SHEPPARD, MORRIS KELLY, Bloomfield Twp.     21 Jun 1847     23 Aug 1847
To Samuel Fryman, $250.00.
To Arnold Sheppard, $250.00.
To brothers and sisters Prudence, Rebecca, David, Priscilla, and John, residue of estate equally.
Witnesses: William Baskins, Francis P. Griffith.1

Could this be my Samuel Fryman?

I wondered if I could learn anything further by looking at the original will. My attempt to do just that failed when at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City in 2005. At that time I was simply unable to locate the appropriate volume. Now that image copies of these records are available online at, I thought that I would try again.

At the main page, I clicked on the Search button, then scrolled down to the bottom of the page and clicked the United States link, which took me to the Historical Records Collections page. From the Place list on the left, I selected Ohio. Under Collections, I selected Probate & Court, which left me with a manageable list of seven collections.


Richland County was not listed out separately, so I clicked in to the larger collection of court records called Ohio, Probate Records, 1789-1996. I then located Richland in the list of counties. Since I knew I was dealing with a will, and had a date of 23 Aug 1847 for when the will was probated, I selected Wills 1816-1864 vol 1/2-2.


There are 677 images on this microfilm, so I should be able to find what I need. Volume 1/2 on FHL film 388,794 covers the years 1816-1822.


Volume 1 on the same film covers 1849-1855.


What about 1823-1848? Clearly, this gap in the records is what I ran into in 2005, when I quit looking. But surely, I reasoned, the author of the book on will abstracts was working off of something. This time, I advanced the images to read the information at the front of volume 1, to see if there was any explanation for this gap. That is when I found this note penned on the inside cover of the volume:


Index for the years 1849 to 1855
to which is added

To which is added an Index to the Wills in

the Administration Records

from 1813 to 1849

Embracing all the wills in the old
Made for the benefit of all whom it may
concern by John Meredith, P. J., 1859

Thank you, Judge Meredith. I scrolled forward to find the S section of the index. Eureka! There I found the index entry for the 1847 will of Morris Kelly Sheppard.


Clicking back in to all the Richland County, Ohio probate and court records, I located the link for Administration Records, volumes 7-8.


The index entry to the will of Morris Kelly Sheppard said it was located on p. 28, but information regarding the settlement of the estate actually starts on p. 27, filmed on frame 12 of FHL microfilm 960,100.

Richland Co., Ohio administration of estate of Morris Kelly Sheppard, 1847.2

From my experience, it is rather unusual that a will would be filed in with the Administration Records when there are separate volumes for wills. That fact most likely signals that we are dealing with a special type of probate, called an Administration C.T.A. (C.T.A. being an abbreviation for a Latin term “cum testamento annexo“. Black’s Law Dictionary explains the phrase this way:

L. Lat. With the will annexed. A term applied to administration granted where a testator makes an incomplete will, without naming any executors, or where he names incapable persons, or where the executors named refuse to act.3

The will of Morris Kelly Sheppard was entered into the bound volume of the Administration Records and clearly shows that no executor was named. What I have not yet verified is whether all wills in Richland Co., Ohio were for some reason included in with the Administration Records between 1823 and 1848.

Sources and credits:

1848 Ohio map by Jeremiah Greenleaf, courtesy David Rumsey Historical Map Collection online at via a Creative Commons license.

All screenshots in this post are from the website created and maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), accessed 06 Feb 2014.

1 Anne Lockwood Dallas Budd, Richland County, Ohio, Abstracts of Wills, 1813-1873 (Mansfield, Ohio: Ohio Genealogical Society, 1974), p. 71.

2 Richland County, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas, Mansfield, Administration Records vol. 7, 1844-1848 p. 27, entry for Morris Kelly Sheppard, 21 Aug 1847; digital images, “Ohio, Probate Records, 1789-1996.” FamilySearch ( : accessed 06 Feb 2014), imaged from FHL microfilm 960,100.

3 Henry Campbell Black, Black’s Law Dictionary, abridged 5th ed. (St. Paul, Minnesota : West Publishing Co., 1983), p. 200.