Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Reading Land Description 101


Since my friend and Indian Territory Freedmen researcher Alcina LOFTIES shared her discovery of the Applications for Land Allotment site on the Family Search website, I have been feverishly downloading some of the more personal applications I have an interest.

It has occurred to me that others will begin to search and download applications for their ancestor’s and some people may not be aware of how to read the land descriptions. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert but over the years I have tried to teach myself how to read these descriptions so I can identify where my ancestors held land. With that in mind I thought I might attempt to illustrate how to read the descriptions.

I will use as an example my great grandmother Bettie LIGON and her land description. To help illustrate where the land was located I am using a plat map that provides a visual for seeing the land description with some clarity.

To begin, the application for allotment provides the description of where and how much land Bettie was assigned by the Dawes Commission and Choctaw Nation:



This table is similar to every table provided for each individual that received an allotment through the Dawes Commission and the tribal nation of their birth or enslavement in the case of the Indian Territory Freedmen. There are at least nine areas with vital information for the researcher and family historian.

First there is the Dawes enrollment number which is necessary to navigate to your ancestor's file on the Family Search site. Secondly,  in the column with the heading of Subdivision is the actual land description you will need to pinpoint your ancestor's land on a plat map. 

Essentially you begin with locating the section, township and range numbers on a map to determine where the particular section is located to begin your search.

First rule of thumb, townships are north and south on a plat map and range is always east and west, this will help you locate where your ancestors lived. In my example Bettie’s land description had her allotment located in Section 22, Township 3 South, Range 1 West.  When I look on a contemporary map of Carter County, Oklahoma I can easily determine the general vicinity of her allotment.

A quick look at this map you see section 22 is in the heart of the coordinates of Township 3 South, Range 1 West. Remember each section consisted of six hundred and forty acres of land. Together the entire area in yellow and red covers more than twenty three thousand acres of land.

Now that red square may not appear to be significant but when you stop and think there were in total eleven individuals who were to receive at least forty acres of land, they pretty much owned over four hundred acres with in that one red square!


Now it is time to dig into the weeds a little bit. Section 22 as stated before consists of 640 acres of land and for the most part the Dawes Commission was tasked to allocate them in forty acre increments to each person on the Dawes Rolls. This is where the land description becomes critical to you locating and identifying the property of your ancestors.

I’ll try to go slow so I’ll understand what I am saying…

Section 22 is broken down into 64 squares of ten acres lots, eight horizontal and eight vertical.

The 64 sections are broken down into four "quarter" sections of 16 ten acre lots totaling 160 acres. 

The top half is north, the bottom is south, the left half is west and the right half is east. 

Add that up and you have on the top the northwest quarter and the northeast quarter. On the bottom is the southwest quarter and the southeast quarter of section 22.

If you will recall the land description was:

E ½ SW ¼ NW ¼ - Section 22 township 3 South 1 West 20 acres

SE ¼ NW ¼ Section 22 Township 3 South, 1 West 40 acres

So how does that look when you plot it out on the plat map? This is the most important thing to remember when reading land descriptions, you read it in reverse order!

For the 20 acres, the Northwest quarter of section 22 is the white square. 

The southwest quarter is the area below and to the left of the dotted lines. 

Finally, the East half are the two ten acre lots that make up half of that forty acre section.

Same procedure for the other description; northwest quarter is the white area that consist of 160 acres and ¼ of that are the forty acres when you take into account the description indicates the Southeast quarter. So according to the description of the subdivision given by the Dawes Commission the sixty acres shown in red is the allotment my great grandmother Bettie Ligon was to receive as a Choctaw freedmen citizen.

As I go forward with this particular research I will plot and illustrate all of the land that was allotted and received by my ancestors of which there were many, many, many more.






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