Monday, September 14, 2009

Using Google Earth to find land location in the Public Land Survey System States

I mentioned in my post Day 4 at the FGS Conference that I had attended the "GPS for Genealogists" presentation by Rick and Pam Sayre. In their talk, they demonstrated how the website Earth Point at can be used to identify the latitude and longitude of a land plot in the Public Land Survey System states, shown in Google Earth and Google Maps, and then how it can be put on the Geographical Positioning System (GPS) and found by driving to the site.

I don't have many ancestral families that owned land in the Public Land Survey System states, but I do have at least two. I was curious to see where the plot of land for my 3rd-great-grandfather Samuel Vaux was located in Andrew County, Missouri. I have two deeds (one a grantor in 1869 and the other a grantee in 1880) that identify it as the southeast quarter of the southeast quadrant of Section 21 in Township 61N Range 33W. With that as a guideline, I went to the website and entered the location into the search fields provided (two screens below):

The search fields had drop down menus that made it easy to select from once I put the State and Township Number in first.

I clicked on the "View" button and got this information:

The geographic location, in latitude and longitude, of the corners of the section are defined in the screen above, along with the size of the section (647 acres).

But now I wanted to see the plot of land as it currently stands - to determine the roads it is bounded by, and if there is a house or farm on the 40 acres owned by my Vaux ancestors. To do this, I had to download Google Earth from - that was fairly easy to do, and after testing it, I was ready to use it.

The screen above has a button for "Fly To on Google Earth" so I clicked on it, and a little "Fly To" program had to be downloaded. Then Google Earth opened in a separate window and quickly zoomed in on the Section and Township, as shown below:

The township is outlined in orange, and the Section is outlined in magenta in the screen above. I could not zoom in any further on Google Earth. I went the next step, and found the icon on the menu row of Google Earth that says "View in Google Maps" (it's the right-most icon above the map).

I clicked on that icon, and Google Maps opened and took me right to the map for that location:

But wait - I've lost the section and township outline, so I went back and figured out on Google Earth that Empire Prairie was just to the left of the section I'm interested in, so I came back to the Google Map and zoomed in a bit to see Empire Prairie and the Section just to the left of the location:

The Southeast quadrant of the Southeast quarter of Section 21 is right in the corner of the Section. I zoomed in again to the maximum possible magnification and saw:

There are several buildings on that 40 acres of land, which has its southeast corner where County Road 115 (east-west) and County Road 242 (north-south) intersect. The location is about one mile north of Missouri Highway 48, and about five miles west of King City. I wonder who lives there, and if the farmhouse is the one bought by my Vaux ancestors?

Isn't this site really useful? And it is FREE!!!

If you want to use this site to look for the current location of land owned by your ancestors, go to and input your land description, download Google Earth if you need to, and then you are set to go.

Thank you to Rick and Pam Sayre for the exposure to this website and capability. This is just one of many things I learned at the FGS Conference - I will have more to come!

Where would we be without Google Maps and Google Earth? We have amazing technology these days that make out job much easier!
UPDATED 4:55 p.m: I erred in my original post by saying State Land System - it is the Public Land Survey System or Federal Land States. Thank you to Michael John Neill for pointing it out on Facebook. I erred in my FGS post too, apparently, but nobody read it ;) Instant correction and instant revision!


Debbie Blanton McCoy said...

Randy, thank you so much for sharing this site. I have plotted my ancestors' land in AL using Boyd's Family Maps books, but this is even better. I can't wait to go back to AL!

MrDolomite said...

Excellent information, thanks!

N. LaRue said...

Wow, that was pretty amazing! Thanks for the step by step with the screen shots. Being able to follow along like that made it easy to understand what you were doing and what the program/s allowed users to do. Great post!

Eileen said...

Durn, I wish my ancestors lived in one of those states. This site seems to be really amazing. Wish I could use it.

gsgenealogy said...


Great Suggestions for Google Earth, I tried it on some land descriptions for Ohio and it worked well. I also have some Wisconsin ancestors for which I will try to locate the land in the near future.

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