Legal land descriptions in America

Explore the basics of legal land descriptions and how they are used in in America.

What is Township America?

Township America provides an easy and intuitive way to browse and find the US legal locations (PLSS), geographic coordinates, and places on an interactive map. You can search for legal land descriptions, geographic coordinates, and places, to see the results on a map, to store them in your account, and to export them into into various file formats including CSV, KML, Shapefile, DXF, and GeoJSON. This allows seamless integration with applications ranging from Excel to Google Earth, as well as CAD and GIS tools. Additionally, Township America provides a convenient batch conversion tool, enabling you to convert multiple legal locations into geographic coordinates and vice versa simultaneously.

Try it now – it’s free to use, with no credit card required. For more details, visit our pricing page.

How it works

In the United States, the Public Land Survey System (PLSS), also known as the U.S. Rectangular Land Survey, Rectangular Survey System, or Township and Range System, is a method used to describe and identify land locations. The PLSS was established in the early 19th century to facilitate the orderly settlement and distribution of public lands. It provides a standardized framework for dividing and describing land parcels across the country. The PLSS divides land into a grid-like system consisting of townships, ranges, and meridians.

Meridians are north-south lines that serve as reference points for establishing the PLSS grid system. They are typically based on prominent geographic features or specific survey points. Several principal meridians exist throughout the United States, with each one serving as a starting point for measuring and locating land. For example, the "Fifth Principal Meridian" is a commonly used reference point in the central United States, while the "Mount Diablo Meridian" is used as a reference in California.

Between meridians are six-mile-wide columns called Ranges. Ranges are numbered consecutively from east to west based on your position relative to the principal meridian.

Townships are six-mile-wide rows that intersect ranges and are numbered consecutively from south to north. The term township also describes the six-by-six mile square formed by the intersection of ranges and townships.

Townships are divided into 36 Sections, each section measuring one-by-one mile. These sections are also referred to as First Divisions. Sections can then be divided into smaller portions, also known as Second Divisions, including Quarter Sections (NE, NW, SE, SW), Quarter-Quarter Sections (e.g., NWSE), Lots (e.g., L 12), and Surveys (e.g., MB 24).

You can find legal land descriptions using the following formats with Township America:

  • Township Range Meridian, for example: 6S 19W 5th Meridian
  • Township Range County State, for example: 6S 19W Clark County Arkansas
  • Section Township Range Meridian, for example: 4 2N 18E Indian Meridian
  • Section Township Range County State, for example: 4 2N 18E Pushmataha County Oklahoma
  • Quarter-Quarter-Section Section Township Range Meridian, for example: NESW 25 5N 30E Mount Diablo Meridian
  • Quarter-Quarter-Section Section Township Range County State, for example: NESW 25 5N 30E Mineral County Nevada

Note that when searching for legal land descriptions, you have the flexibility to use County and State in place of Meridian. For example, 6S 19W 5th Meridian, 6S 19W Clark County Arkansas, and 6S 19W Clark County AR will yield the same result.

Geographic Coordinates and Places

Latitude and Longitude, known collectively as geographic coordinates, are used to specify locations on Earth. Latitude lines, or parallels, run east-west and are parallel to the equator. They measure a location's angle north or south of the equator, from 0° at the equator up to 90°N (+90) or 90°S (-90) at the poles. Longitude lines, or meridians, run from pole to pole in a north-south direction. Longitude measures how far east or west a location is from the prime meridian, which runs through Greenwich, England, with a range from 0° at the prime meridian to 180°E (+180) or 180°W (-180).

Using Township America you can find geographic coordinates using the following formats:

  • Latitude and Longitude using Decimal Degrees, for instance: 38.825890, -95.742314 or -95.742314, 38.825890. These coordinates can be ordered differently and separated by a comma or space.
  • Latitude and Longitude using Degrees, Minutes, and Seconds, such as 38°82'58"N, 95°74'23"W or 38:82:58N, 95:74:23W. In this format, the coordinates are separated only by space, and their order can vary.

Places refer to postal addresses, zip codes, and the names of provinces, cities, neighborhoods, and points of interest. Using Township America, you can easily convert place names and addresses into legal land descriptions and geographic coordinates.

Kickstart your experience with Township America using our quick-start guides. These guides offer clear, step-by-step instructions and practical examples to ensure you can make the most of our tools and services seamlessly.