Understanding Legal Location Descriptions

Terms used in the Township and Range System:


Basic unit of the system, a square tract of land one mile by one mile containing 640 acres.


36 sections are arranged in a 6 by 6 array, measuring 6 miles by 6 miles. Sections are numbered beginning with the northeast-most section, proceeding west to 6, then south along the west edge of the township and to the east.


Assigned to a township by measuring east or west of a Principal Meridian

Range Lines

North to south lines which mark township boundaries

Township Lines

East to west lines which mark township boundaries

Principle Meridian

Reference or beginning point for measuring east or west ranges.

Base line

Reference or beginning point for measuring north or south townships.

    MD = Mt. Diablo base and meridian
    HUM = Humboldt base and meridian
    SB = San Bernardino base and meridian

A specific township is identified as being north or south of a particular baseline and east or west of a particular principle meridian. For example, T3N, R1E of the 3rd Principle Meridian is the third township north of the baseline in the first range east of the Third Principle Meridian.

The land description generally starts with the smallest part of the description and proceeds to the largest definition. For example, SE1/4 of NW1/4 of Section 3, T3N, R1E, 3rd PM would be the southeast quarter of the northwest quarter of section 3 in township 3 north, range 2 east of the 3rd Principle Meridian. You may find some irregularly shaped townships and sections which result from surveying errors and other difficulties.

The largest grouping is the township which is named in reference to a Principle Meridian (P.M.) and a Baseline. T2N, R1E refers to Township 2 North (of the Baseline), Range 1 East (of the Principle Meridian).

Within each township are 36 sections, each one mile square. Each section contains 640 acres. The sections are numbered from 1 to 36 in the following order

Within each section, the land is referred to as half and quarter sections. A one-sixteenth division is called a quarter of a quarter, as in the NW1/4 of the NW1/4. The descriptions are read from the smallest division to the largest.


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