Metes and Bounds Survey System
By Gary JD Gingras, M.Arch.

DEFINITIONS
 mete, meted, meting ^{*a}
 1. to distribute or apportion by measure; allot; dole (usually followed by out ) : to mete out punishment.
 2. Archaic. to measure.
 [bef. 900; ME; OE metan; c. D meten, ON meta, Goth mitan, G messen to measure, Gk medesthai to measure]

 mete ^{*b}
 1. a boundary; limit.
 2. a boundary mark or line.
 [ME. < OFr, < L. meta, boundary, goal < IE. *meithr, a tree, MIr. methos, boundary mark]
INTRODUCTION
Most real estate in the original 13 US colonies, and
in several of the other early states was surveyed with the Metes and Bounds
^{*c} surveying system. This system is still in use today, although
the tools used by surveyors have changed dramatically. Technological improvements
have led to greatly increased accuracy.
In the Metes and Bounds system, property descriptions
can contain several types of information. The type and quality of information has
changed over the years, as a reflection of the changes in surveyors' tools and
capabilities. Historians, genealogists, and others^{*d} will be interested
in the early development of the Metes and Bounds system, but we will concentrate
on more contemporary uses of the system. In essence, the Metes and Bounds system
is a method for describing the lines which bound a parcel of real estate.
BEARINGS
Property lines or survey lines are identified
with a direction (bearing or heading) and a distance. An example is
"N13^{o}W 100 feet". This example uses the Compass Degree system of angle
measurement.
Illustration from Direct Line Software
Compass Degree bearings are given by specifying a
compass point (north or south), a number of degrees, and then another compass
point (east or west). For example, N13^{o}W is a bearing.
The illustration shows examples of various bearings
(or headings) at ten degree intervals. Each of the lines leaving the center of
the diagram has its bearing shown at the end of the line. This system permits
great precision, since each bearing can be specified in degrees, minutes, and
seconds of angle. One minute is ^{1}/_{60}^{th} of a
degree, and one second is ^{1}/_{60}^{th} of a minute.
Each degree is, therefore divided into 3,600 seconds, and a full circle is
360 degrees, or 1,296,000 seconds (nearly 1.3 million seconds!).
DISTANCES
Distances can be measured in a variety of units, but
many US surveyors continue to use the foot as the basic unit of measurement. For
most generalpurpose surveys, the foot is divided into
^{1}/_{100}^{ths}. In building design and construction,
it is convenient to note that ^{1}/_{100}^{th} of a foot
is very close to ^{1}/_{8}^{th} of an inch.
EXAMPLE ONE
Here's an example of a survey plan demonstrating the
Metes and Bounds survey system (left click opens a new window).
625x875, 22.4K, Illustration by GJDG
EXAMPLE TWO
Here's an example of the legal description of an actual
parcel of real estate, based on a Metes and Bounds survey, as recorded in
Superior Township, Washtenaw County, MI. The Parcel # is the tax identification
number. Notice how compactly this information can be written, through the use
of some readilyidentifiable abbreviations. Below the description are a MapQuest
image and a GlobeXplorer aerial photo, showing the parcel described.
PROPERTY DESCRIPTION (PARCEL #1002400014) 
9800 ANN ARBOR ROAD PLYMOUTH MICHIGAN 48170 
COM AT E 1/4 POST OF SEC, TH S 1 DEG 05' E 338.42 FT
IN E LINE OF SEC, TH S 66 DEG 09' W 732.70 FT
IN CENT OF HWY FOR PL OF BEG, TH S 14 DEG 06' E 550.03 FT,
TH S 66 DEG 09' W 266.27 FT, TH N 22 DEG 40' W 542.46 FT,
TH N 66 DEG 09' E 348.26 FT IN CENT OF HWY TO THE PL OF BEG,
SEC 2, T2SR7E, 3.82 AC.

529x528, 20.2K 
529x529, 264.8K 
EXAMPLE THREE
Here's the Metes and Bounds Description for our
Music Park Subdivision project (left click opens a new window).
463x690, 10.9K, Illustration by GJDG
FOOTNOTES
 ^{*a} Random House Unabridged Dictionary
 ^{*b} New World Dictionary
 ^{*c} See Jefferis and Madsen, chapter 11, for a discussion of the three major survey systems (Metes and Bounds, Rectangular, and Lot and Block).
 ^{*d} See Steve Broyles' discussion for historical aspects of the Metes and Bounds survey system.
REFERENCES
 Broyles, Steve; , downloaded from http://www.ultranet.com/~deeds/metes.htm on 01/05/2002
 Guralnik, David; New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition; Simon and Schuster, New York NY, 1986
 Jefferis, Alan & Madsen, David A.; Architectural Drafting and Design, Third Edition; Delmar Publishers/International Thomson Publishing, Albany NY, 1991
 Kicklighter, Clois E.; Architecture, residential drawing and design; GoodheartWillcox Company Inc., South Holland IL, 1990
 Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, CDROM Version; Random House Inc. & WordPerfect Corporation, 1993
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Revised 01/05/2002, 01/09/2002, 01/20/2002, 01/27/2002

