Wednesday, July 30, 2008

From BLM to Google Earth -- Finding Your Ancestor's Land and Land Records

This class was taught by Terry Nels Lee who is a BYU Professor Emeritus from the Marriott School of Management.

This class was fascinating. I learned how land is measured in the United States. In the 13 original colonies and in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Texas and Hawaii they use the Metes and Bounds system. Fortunately the rest of the country uses a rectangular survey system. The BLM web site has a detailed printable 8 page primer on this system. It explains base, meridian, township, section etc.

The BLM web site is There is a database for all homesteaded property in the states where they use the rectangular survey system. Once you find your ancestor and his property, you can order copies of the homestead application and supporting documents such as citizenship papers from the National Archives.

Some wonderful people at Montana State University have converted the survey descriptions for a lot of places to latitude and longitude or GPS equivalents. Go to and look for the township-range-section (TRS) link. After you do this, then there is a conversion link to terraserver to view photos of the property. Or you can go directly to

You can also access google earth and enter the GPS co-ordinates to see the locations. I am going to request the powerpoint presentation for this lecture.

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