On a recent project, I retraced a 40-year-old survey in order to establish the boundary lines for a partial topographic survey of a 31-acre parcel. There was bad news and good news.

After plugging my client’s deed into my computer I saw a large closure error of perhaps 50 feet. Then I again read the caption in the deed to see who did the survey and when, and wondered whether I could get a copy of the plan. Then I checked every bearing and distance to make sure I entered them correctly. No such luck on the plan and I have found that particular surveyor has not always been consistent in measurements.

Then I began to enter the deeds for the surrounding properties and again found some terrible closures on old surveys. The best deed was poor, but more recently done by a good company and so I gained a little hope that at least one side of the property would be less complicated.

In discussing the project with the client, she walked me around part of the perimeter and pointed out recent metal fence posts and thought that corners existed near them. She was right about markers existing and I was glad to have a start. So during the first afternoon I dug around those posts and found pins and pipes and set up a partial traverse and located the monumentation. It was low-hanging fruit in a deeply wooded site.

One of the corners of an adjoining property had a pin set inside a very large stump, part of which still stood six feet up from the ground. At another corner there was an old pipe at the end of a long stone row. There were also other pins and pipes. Once I downloaded my coordinates and put them into the CAD drawing, the deeds began to argue with each other. Corners for the tract I was working on disagreed with deed distances. The land was there and the monuments were there but they did not agree with the deeds.


I usually put the record deeds into a layer of their own. Each deed might have a different color. There will often be a note in the drawing about the deed closures. When I have a deed that has gross errors I tend to see if the surrounding deeds can shine a light on the error in my own. If I have one error, it can often be discerned and figured out as a copy error from a previous deed or if I obtain the plan for the survey, the person writing the deed might have misread the plan and that is an easy fix. When the deed for my site has several errors, it gets more difficult to isolate the problems.

For this survey I created another layer in my CAD drawing and copied all of my deed plots into that new layer so I could play with them. This left the original deeds plotted as they were written and I could rotate one deed to match the next and do that again and again. Some of them were close, but by close I mean a foot and the angles did not match. I began to put these rotated deeds back into my drawing and try to match them up with the field evidence. I also put coordinates on some of the guesses I had made as to where corners might exist. Due to the variances between deeds, in some places the trial shots were 20 feet apart.

During the next visit to the site I began to record shots for the topographic portion of the survey and also located the road nearest the area where I was working. This was so I could see how close the deeds that were called to run along the middle of the road looked when plotted. Still not very good, but getting closer.

A good thing about consistently poor measuring on old surveys is that if I can identify it as such, and feel sure that field procedures were estimates or not measured at all, then I am not as worried about the angles and distances. It seemed most everything out there was surveyed in the same manner—poorly.

Using my guesses, I was able to stake out and find many of the monuments called for in the deeds. Some were very old one-inch galvanized pipes left sticking up about eight inches and so ancient they had severely rusted halfway from the top to the ground. These tops could be bent over easily. They were also in large eight-foot-wide stone rows and had old flagging on and about them. They were the deed calls.

A diligent surveyor had chiseled up a spike in the road and once I popped out the plug of cold patch it was exposed and located. That marker was about six inches deep and difficult to clean up for a good look. Locating it was well worth the effort. The initial signal was so poor, and with other various multiple signals in the road I may not have tried to dig it up at all were it not for the tell-tale square left by my predecessor.

On one corner I found a mark I really appreciated. It was the tall stump. The adjoiners deed called a bearing and distance to a tree. This stump was close to the deed distance and very old. A prior surveyor also had decided that the stump looked right for the corner of the adjoining tract he was surveying and placed a pin in the physical center of the stump and flagged it up well. He could have just located the center of the stump and let it go at that, but he went the extra mile and marked his point for others to find and follow.

Now, on my plan you will see a bearing and distance to a pin found in a stump. Twenty years from now that stump might have entirely rotted away but the pin will remain. At that time, the next surveyor might read my plan, see that the pin he found is up out of the ground, which is slightly higher in comparison to the surrounding woods, and decide that this pin was set where the old stump noted on my plan once stood. Hopefully, he will check the distance between my corner points and see that it measures correctly according to my plan.

There are times when we locate old field stones and stumps. I believe it wise that on these rough corners markers, we make a clear cut or drill hole for the next person to recognize as deliberate. I recall an old plan that called for a “DRILL HOLE IN A TURTLE ROCK.” When I found that plan (and deed) call, it was well described and in the field— sure enough, the drill hole was there.

Land surveyors are called upon to help people understand and see the land they have purchased. We have the privilege, equipment, knowledge and experience to show them the facts. Perhaps the most obscure survey I have ever performed had a deed that described a parcel of land that was bounded and described as being bounded by lands of three separate owners. No bearings, no distances, no deed calls for monumentation save the three property owners. It turned out to be triangular and several acres in size. When my employer first handed me the job I was intimidated and concerned. My boss, a licensed land surveyor, instructed me to go out and see where they neighbors properties were. Eventually, I was able to find and locate the monuments to his property. The monuments were the neighbor’s properties. He simply had whatever existed in between them.

So when we draw up the record of our measurements and show our facts, they may be of pins in stumps, old rusted pipes, drill holes in Turtle Rocks or simply neighbors. This is just part of the service we land surveyors provide while leaving behind a trail for others to follow.