Help figuring out how to read legal descriptions

I know this question is really basic and I feel quite dumb asking, but I just can't figure this out. How do you read (and locate) property based on legal descriptions? Is there a free GIS tool that helps?

I see how the public land survey system has townships of 36 sections and each section is 640 acres. But according to this, I should be seeing descriptions like:

N 12 SE 14, SW 14, 24, T32N, R18E

Which would read, "The north 1/2 of the southeast quarter of the southwest quarter of section 24, township 32 north, range 18 east."

So, how do I locate this? Where do I go online to find this kind of map or at least the section so I can draw it out? This is a bogus example from a book so I can't really look it up, but I'm having a difficult time applying this in real life.

When I look a legal description online, I see even less information. Maybe you all can help me work through a couple of examples (one in Texas and on in Oklahoma)?

Texas (Young County): A-964 SEC 1677 TE&L SUR (this happens to be mine)

What does the A-964 stand for? It's not the section, right? That would be 1677. All I know from this description is that the interest is in all of section 1677. Where do I find maps of the townships and sections of a county? This doesn't even tell me which township - unless that's what the A-964 represents.

Oklahoma (Pontotoc): 15-04N-07E (just a random one I found online)

I'm assuming this is section 15 - but of which township?.

What does 04N mean? North something? I was expecting to see something like 1/4 N. Same question for 07E. And, where do I find maps of this?


Danna, regarding Oklahoma, it seems you may already have the document at this link, but I am including for anyone else with similar questions. Page 32 is helpful to this topic, although the rest is excellent.

Your question "What does 04N mean? North something?" Township 4 (number of townships) North of the Baseline and Range 7 (number of townships) East of the Indian Meridian. I hope this helps. Others will need to help you with Texas.

For maps, I use an out of print atlas "The Roads of Oklahoma". It includes, among many other features, all the Township and Range designations on the maps. Maybe someone will have a more usable answer to your question. I find this forum a friendly and helpful place.

Hi Danna!

I will send you some reference materials regarding legal descriptions. It's all fairly simple once you get the hang of it.

In the case of reading Township and Range style legal descriptions, read them backwards. I'll explain.


Charles, are you any kin to C. A. Tooke, formerly from Shreveport,La.????

In Texas, use the General Land Office GIS viewer. The A stands for abstract, which generally describes a surveyors work for a parcel of land with metes and bounds descriptions. The section is 1677 from your description, and the abstract number helps to define the area or block number. As an advanced “newbie” let me tell you that not all sections are 640 acres. West Texas has many varieties, and Upton County in particular has sections ranging from 640 to 675 and all numbers in between. In other counties, where two or more large surveys were done, there are “scrap files” which presumably don’t have specific identifiers and usually are where two surveys meet. Look along the Pecos River and you’ll see not only the orientation of the sections change, but also their shapes from squares to rectangles I sometimes think the old surveyors might have been drinking. Another good source is the Railroad Commission GIS viewer. Good luck. I’ve found this subject enormously interesting.

As an example for Oklahoma… NESESW 4-12N-22W… this would be read as "northeast quarter of the southeast quarter of the southwest quarter in section 4, township 12 north, range 22 west… to find this on a map, find section 4 of 12N-22W then, look for the southwest quarter of the section (160 acre square) then, look for the southeast quarter (40 acre square) of that 160 acres THEN, the northeast quarter of the 40 acre square. Which is a 10 acre square & this is the lease discribed. There are variations that indicate half of the block, as an example “N2” (north half), S2 (south half), E2 (east half), W2 (west half). If you have specific location ‘calls’, let me know what they are and I will do the same discription for them, if that would help.

Texas isn’t laid out in a square mile grid pattern like OK and the descriptions can get so long they get cutoff in most fixed field entries.

Hi, John -

Yes, Casper Ardis "CA" Tooke, Jr. and my father, Charles Emery Tooke, Jr. were first cousins. I just saw CA's son, Casper Ardis (Ardis) Tooke, III at our family Christmas Party a couple of weekends ago.

I was brought up in Shreveport but fell in love with Texas and moved here years ago.

If you would like to discuss my family's history, please accept my invitation to become A Friend on The Forum.