I have addressed double monumentation as a business concern before. Because of technology and what I see happening in surveying, I think it is time to dig deeper into this subject. 

I have addressed double monumentation as a business concern before. Because of technology and what I see happening in surveying, I think it is time to dig deeper into this subject.

Whether land surveying is more of a science or an art has been the subject of a long-running debate. Throughout history, the pendulum has swung back and forth between the two theories. Today, with the common use of GPS and modern technology, science seems to be getting the upper hand in this age-old struggle. As a result of this belief, surveyors have set many additional corners, in some cases next to established property corners. In some instances, this has resulted in unnecessary court fights and lawsuits.

The modern surveying profession needs to understand more about the art of accepting evidence of existing property boundary locations--corner locations not based wholly on technology or mathematical calculations. A good place to start would be the 2009 BLM Manual, particularly chapter six, which is directed toward the private surveyor. New guidelines are established on dealing with the weight of evidence. The standard in the 1973 manual that evidence should be “beyond a reasonable doubt” has been changed to “substantial evidence.” The 2009 Manual also states that in some cases “substantial evidence is more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance of the evidence.” I believe these are changes we can live with since most of us have practiced to this standard for years.

A witness tree most likely marked by E.E. Todd in 1948. Photo by Milton Denny.

The 2009 Manual also gives advice on accepting local corners based on the rights of the entryman or the original owner. “It may be generally held that the claimant, entryman, or owner of lands has located his or her lands by the good faith location if such case were used in determining the boundaries as might be expected by the exercise of ordinary intelligence under existing conditions. A good faith location is a satisfactory location of a claim or of a local point. It is one in which it is evident that the claimant’s interpretation of the record of the original survey as related to the nearest corners existing at the time the lands were located is indicative of such a degree of care and diligence upon their part, or that of their surveyor, in the ascertainment of their boundaries as might be expected for that time and place.”1 Essentially, this means existing corners that were set in good faith may not be in the exact current mathematical position but are the corners that should be accepted in most cases.

The difference between the science and the art of surveying is that the science comprises the tools we use to gather information and make mathematical calculations. The art is the skill we develop that allows us as surveyors to make professional judgments on found evidence, accept or reject existing corners and, in some cases, set a new corner.

To say it another way, the art is finding the evidence of the corner. This may be the charcoal left beneath a cedar post in the original survey, stones called for in the original notes or monuments set by a county surveyor in place of the corner. In many cases, the stump holes of witness trees are the best evidence of the original corner location. We have all been faced with the dilemma of finding double corners many feet apart. If witness trees were marked, the answer just may be probing for the stump holes. One old surveyor wrote it was highly unlikely to find all four stump holes, but two or more at the correct distance and bearing might be the best evidence available.

Consider the following example of a survey that was not performed correctly. I have been researching Section 1 of Township 22 North Range 11 East in Alabama following in the footsteps of E. E. Todd. This is a very odd section closing on both the east and north line of the township. The north line of the section was run from west to east, being at the northwest corner of Section 1 and closing on the east line of township.

Todd proofed all the corners and issued a plat in 1948. To me, this meant he had found corners and stump holes to prove the corners. Along the north line of the section, I found both section corners and stump holes to agree with the original field notes. The problem was the north quarter corner of Section 1. Almost all the surveyors in Alabama know that the government surveyors set the half mile post and did not go back and change the half mile post into the quarter corner. Well, what do you think I found? The best evidence anyone could ever hope for--blazed trees, wire fences and one of the stump holes for the half mile post. Yet about 30 feet to the west was a new rebar with plastic cap, set at the halfway distance between the section corners.

Why did someone have to cause a problem that never existed? This was truly someone who does not understand surveying. The new BLM Manual states that in Alabama most of the entrymen accepted the half mile post location as the only corner set.

Perhaps A.C. Mulford summarized it best: “It is far more important to have faulty measurements on the place where the line truly exists, than an accurate measurement where the line does not exist at all.”2

Understanding the art of surveying can also keep you out of court! 

Milt's 7 Rules for Practicing the Art of Surveying

1. Do the research to understand the original surveys in the area.

2. Spend the time in the field to look for evidence included in the original field notes and dig, probe, and search for the correct corners.

3. Be suspicious of corners you want to set that don’t fit occupation.

4. Talk to land owners in the area and ask for old surveys and plats.

5. Search the courthouse for old plats and maps.

6. Require the crew to take digital pictures to document corners.

7. Ask yourself whether you would be content with your survey if it were done adjacent  to your property.


1. See Chapter 6-35, “Collateral Evidence of Obliterated Corners.”

Mulford, A.C., Boundaries and Landmarks: A Practical Guide, Stanhope Press, Boston, 1912.

Milton Denny, PLS, is the owner of Denny Enterprise LLC in Tuscaloosa, Ala., a company serving the surveying and mapping community through consulting and seminar services.