Here’s an example of a Michigan land patent. This particular patent dates from 1864.
One of my biggest triumphs as an archivist at the Archives of Michigan was learning how to effectively search for land records. The Archives is home to several types of records related to land, and they can seem daunting at first. Land records are often organized by the property’s township, range and section numbers, and many people aren’t used to referring to land this way.
The foundation for using many land records is an understanding of Michigan’s township and range grid system. The surveys that originally laid out the grid were conducted primarily between 1815 and 1860 and divided Michigan into townships that are thirty-six square miles in area. Each township was given township and range coordinates and divided into thirty-six one-square-mile sections. You can find an excellent map that gives township names and coordinates for the entire state here. The image below shows one of the maps created from the original land surveys and shows how sections are numbered within each township (To view a larger version, click Land Survey Map) . All of the original survey maps are available here at Seeking Michigan.
A map created from original land surveys.
Each section in a township can be further divided into half sections, quarter sections, and quarter-quarter sections. When I work with researchers in the Archives reading room, I usually draw a diagram like the ones below to illustrate how the divisions work.
A diagram demonstrating land divisions.
Now that you understand the grid system, let’s take a look at some of the ways you might be able to find out (or at least estimate) the township, range and section numbers as well as quarter sections. The first place to check would be a deed to the property. The coordinates and quarter section information are usually listed at the end of a legal description. If the property is located in a subdivision, and you know the name of the subdivision and the county where it is located, you can use the online subdivision plat database maintained by Michigan’s Bureau of Construction Codes. Subdivision plats will indicate at least the township, range and section numbers and may also indicate quarter sections. If you have just a general sense of where a parcel is located, Michigan county atlases (available in the Archives of Michigan reading room or at your local public library) can be a good resource. They usually show the township, range and section grid, and you can use nearby roads as landmarks to identify the area you’re researching.