To Plat or not to Plat?

To Plat or not to Plat?
How to go from deed to Google Map?

In researching land ownership in the Colvin Study, platting a deed is often the first step toward recreating a reasonable approximation of the land in Goggle Maps. Platting is necessary in understanding not just the fundamental shape and type of land but its whereabouts. Platting a deed is not difficult; it can be accomplished with a few simple tools and some basic calculations.

Platting is only possible, however, if the original deed contains a legal description which reveals not merely the metes and bounds of the area in question but surveyor calls which provide compass directions. The Rouse Colvin deed1 for example, contains the following legal description:

Beginning at a point near Aquia Run in said County [Stafford] adjoining the land of __ Shackleford at the corner of lot Number 4, and running with Shackleford North 61 ¾° E. 115.4 poles to a point in the middle of Aquia Run… [truncated]

Because this wording contains the compass calls, this type of survey is referred to as an indiscriminate survey as opposed to a strictly metes and bounds survey. However, because of the compass directions, its possible to plat the deed.

With the deed platted, there now exists a visible representation of the land area, then using Google Maps, natural features can be confirmed and the area approximated.

The opposite situation exits with a deed such as the one whereby George H. Brooks, in 1883, purchased some 40 acres from J.H. Crofstman.2 Its legal description reads:

Beginning at a poplar Tree near garrison’s saw Mill & now decayed or destroyed, running thence down Whiston’s Run to Knight’s corner thence with Knights line to Auston’s run thence up said run to Hatty Cummings land, thence with Cummings, Duets and Croftsman’s lands to the beginning containing 40 acres more or less…[truncated]

The most obvious aspect of this legal description is its conspicuous lacking of compass directions, naming only natural landmarks as its calls. The distinction is that this is a purely metes and bounds survey, not an indiscriminate type. This lack of directions, thus makes it difficult to plat the deed without first conducting extensive research into neighboring lands using a kind of reverse logic. In such a case, a small-scale reconstruction of the area necessarily involves researching deeds and land maps and, if extant, period surveys from deeds in order to deduce a more accurate image of where the land was likely located. Only after this secondary step, can such lands be platted and an approximate map created.


1. Photocopy of clerk’s original recording, Bridwell to Colvin, B & S, executed 4 August 1896, recorded 19 April 1899, Deed Bk.8, pp 298, Stafford County Circuit Court, Stafford Co., VA, [Ms. Allison Webb, deputy court clerk, copyist]

2. Photocopy of clerk’s original recording,, Crofsman to Brooks, B & S, executed 1 Dec. 1880, recorded 15 July 1881, Deed Bk 1 pp 508, Stafford County Circuit Ct., Stafford County, VA, [Ms. Allison Webb, deputy court clerk, copyist.]


About Alex Colvin

Senior, History, minoring in Anthropology, University of Houston. Charter President, Walter Prescott Webb Historical Society, (Webb UH Main 2014-2015) University of Houston. Additional credentials can be found in the CV / Services tab.
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