Thomas M. Ernst & Associates, Inc.--Serving New Jersey For 40 Years
What Is Surveying ?
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Surveying is defined as the science and technique of determining the relative positions of points and or objects on, above or below the surface of the earth. In addition to this, Land Surveying involves the research of land records, the research and analyzation of prior surveys, maps and historical evidence in order to accurately determine land boundaries and subdivide larger tracts of land into smaller parcels for potential development.


Land Surveying has been an indispensable part in the development of human civilization since the beginning of recorded history and it is needed in the planning and execution of almost every form of construction. Not only were surveyors needed in the layout of the Great Pyramids but they were more commonly used in ancient Egypt to re-establish lost land boundary markers whenever the Nile River overflowed its banks. Around 3000 B.C. the Egyptians established a register of land ownership. During the Roman Empire, Land Surveying was established as a profession and their expertise was essential in the construction of the vast Roman infrastructure. William the Conqueror of England established The Domesday Book (1086 A.D.) which included the names of land owners, the area of the lands they owned and the quality of the land. Napoleon I created Continental Europe’s Cadastre which contained numbers of the plots of land, usage and ownership.


In Roman religion, Terminus was the god who protected boundary markers. The name was the Latin word for such a marker and sacrifices were performed to sanctify each boundary stone. Landowners celebrated a festival called the Terminalia in Terminus' honor each year on February 23. The Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill was thought to have been built over a shrine to Terminus.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Lewis & Clark, Benjamin Banneker, Andrew Ellicott and Daniel Boone were all Land Surveyors at some point in their lives.

Some Biblical References:

Deuteronomy 19:14 "You shall not move your neighbor's boundary mark, which the ancestors have set, in your inheritance which you will inherit in the land that the Lord your God gives you to possess.

Deuteronomy 27:17 'Cursed is he who moves his neighbor's boundary mark.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'

Proverbs 22:28 Do not move the ancient boundary Which your fathers have set

This diagram shows a theoretical typical section of a standard township


Surveying in the United States

In the United States the method of surveying differs depending on where you are.  In the original thirteen colonies and also Maine, Tennessee, West Virginia, Vermont and Kentucky, Land Surveyors use a system derived from Great Britain known as "metes and bounds".  The metes and bounds system describes land boundaries in deeds using bearings (angular direction from either north or south), distances, landmarks (trees, rivers, mounds, adjoining properties, etc.) and markers (concrete monuments, stones, rock piles, wood stakes, iron pipes/pins, etc.).  As Land Surveyors in New Jersey it can be difficult to survey in this metes and bounds area due to the confusion created by older deeds where some or all of the "deed calls" (landmarks, markers, etc.) have decayed or been lost or destroyed.  Older deeds usually used magnetic bearings established using a surveying compass at the time of the deed.  These compass readings tended to be inaccurate and the values also vary from year to year.  A simple example description under this system might read: "Beginning at a stone set in 1912 at the southwest corner of Jones' remaining 100 acres on the north side of Jones' Road and running thence; As the magnetic needle pointed in 1912, North 10 degrees East 32 chains and 95 links to the center of Muddy Brook thence; Along the center of Muddy Brook running East 30 chains and 30 links to the westerly line of Smith's property thence; Along the westerly line of Smith's property South 10 degrees West 32 chains and 95 links to an oak tree on the north side of Jones' Road thence; Along the north side of Jones' Road Due West 30 chains and 30 links to the point and place of beginning," containing approximately 100 acres of land more or less.  One can see from this "metes and bounds" description that it could be quite arduous to locate this parcel of land on the ground accurately.  Over time as property surveys are performed, more modern "metes and bounds" descriptions are written and recorded in the public record.  These new descriptions would be based on more modern and precise measurement techniques which would help in locating the parcel more accurately on the ground in the future and also giving a better measurement of the land acreage.  A modern example of the previous metes and bounds description might read as follows: "Beginning at a stone marker found at the intersection of the westerly line of lands now or formerly remaining to Jones with the northerly line of Jones' Road, said point being distant 16.5' as measured at right angles from the centerline thereof, said point also being distant South 87 degrees 52 minutes East 1,525.00 feet from the easterly line of Wilson Street and running thence;  North 10 degrees 15 minutes East--2,152 feet to the centerline of Muddy Brook thence;  Along the centerline of Muddy Brook in a general easterly direction--2,072 feet more or less to a point in the westerly line of lands now or formerly of Smith thence;  Along the westerly line of lands now or formerly of Smith, South 10 degrees 15 minutes West--1,992 feet to an iron pin with identification cap set in the northerly line of Jones' Road thence;  Along the northerly line of Jones' Road North 87 degrees 52 minutes West-1,925.62 feet to the point and place of beginning," said lands containing 91 acres of land more or less.  This modernized metes and bounds description gives a more definitive location of the parcel, although some elements of the older deed are still necessary it can be seen that the bearings are slightly different, the distances are given in feet instead of the formerly used chains and links measurements and also the acreage has been measured and honed down to a more accurate number.  This modern metes and bounds description would have been based on a modern boundary survey of the property by a Professional Land Surveyor.  The next Land Surveyor to "retrace" this property should have an easier time at it and avoid some of the common surveying problems found in the older metes and bounds descriptions.

            Surveying in lands west of the Mississippi River use primarily the Public Land Survey System, these lands are known as sectionalized lands or also sometimes referred to as the rectangular survey system.  This system was created by the Land Ordinance of 1785 and was used for the division of lands that make up the Louisiana Purchase to control the survey, sale, and settling of the new lands.  This system of land division uses meridians to create the bounds of the parcels.  The units of area are the following: Township-6 miles by 6 miles (36 square miles) and the subdivision of a Township into Sections-1 mile by 1 mile (1 square mile or 640 acres), see the diagram to the left.  Sections can be further subdivided into quarter sections (160 acres) and then further subdivided as needed.  The federal government typically surveys only to the quarter-section level and smaller parcels are usually surveyed later by private Land Surveyors.  The following is a land description in the Public Land Survey System:  The description of a particular ten acre parcel of land under this system might be given as "the NW1/4, SW1/4, SE1/4, SEC 22, T2S, R3E".  The elements of such descriptions are interpreted from right to left, so we are describing a plot of land in the township that is the third east of the Range Line (R3E) and the second south of the base line (T2S).  This is also section 22 in that township. Next that section is divided into quarters of 160 acres each and we should be in the South East quarter section. That section is divided again in quarters of 40 acres each and the description calls for the South West quarter. Last in this description, it is quartered again into 10 acre parcels as we want the North West quarter.  This example plot is the North West quarter of the South West quarter of the South East quarter of section 22 of the township that is the second south of the base line and the third east of the range line.  As an area became settled a township and county name might replace the range and base line numbers, but they can always be traced backwards.  As Land Surveyors in New Jersey we do not deal with the Public Land Survey System or this type of property description.

Monument marking the Beginning Point of the U.S. Public Land Survey is a United States National Hist