How To Identify Old Descriptions
With Modern Location.

Townships were surveyed under the NW Ordinance of 1785 and are six miles square. Local government and school districts used to match townships but not anymore. Current local government jurisdiction and school districts do not necessarily match each other much less match the surveyed townships. But land and streets are still surveyed according to the NW Ordinance.

Mailing address indicates location of the Federal Post Office responsible for mail delivery in an area and does not determine local government jurisdiction or land location. Directions NE, NW, SE, SW are part of the mailing address and apply to the whole county. The center point is Division Avenue and Fulton Street within the local jurisdiction of the City of Grand Rapids. Avenues run north and south, streets run east and west. Odd numbers are on the west side of avenues and the north side of streets.

Surveyed townships:

T10N  R12W
SOLON - 02
T10N  R11W
T10N  R10W
T10N  R9W
T9N  R12W
T9N  R11W
T9N  R10W
T8N  R12W
T8N  R11W
T8N  R10W
T8N  R9W
T7N  R12W
T7N R11W
ADA - 15
T7N  R10W
T7N  R9W
T6N  R12W
PARIS - 18
T6N  R11W
T6N  R10W
T6N  R9W
BYRON - 21
T5N  R12W
T5N  R11W
T5N  R10W
BOWNE - 24
T5N  R9W

Each state or even a portion of a state refers to a specific base/meridian line. There is only one base/meridian line for Michigan, called the Michigan meridian.

The Base line, running east and west, lies north of the second tier of counties. The Township line number indicates how far north or south of the base line a township lies.

The meridian line runs north and south from Sault Saint Marie. The Range line number indicates how far east or west of the meridian line a township lies.

A township is 6 miles square. There are 36 sections in every township in Kent County.
A section is 1 mile square:
1 mile = 5280 feet One section: 5280 ft x 5280 ft = 640 Acres
½ mile = 2640 1/2 section: 2640 ft x 5280 ft = 320 Acres
1/2 mile = 2640 1/4 section: 2640 ft x 2640 ft = 160 Acres
¼ mile = 1320 feet 1/4 1/4 section: 1320 ft x 1320 ft = 40 Acres
1/8 mile = 660 feet 1/4 1/4 1/4 section: 660 feet x 660 ft = 10 Acres
1/16 mile = 330 feet 1/4 1/4 1/4 1/4 section: 330 ft x 330 ft = 2.5 Acres

One acre = 43,580 square feet
100 links = 1 chain = 4 rods = 66 feet, the usual width of a two-lane road

Township section 6 is always the NW corner. Section 36 is always the SE corner.

Township section 1 is always the NE corner. Section 31 is always the SW corner.

Every surveyed township in Kent County:

Township Section Layout











































Streets running along Township/Range/section lines:

When the State of Michigan began surveying township sections in the 1830's, it provided for a 4 rod (66 foot) wide street right-of-way along each Section Line and many of these streets still exist and match roughly to the section lines.

Warning: Streets stop, start, jog, are combined, re-named, vacated, go around lakes, wind up hills. Section lines do not.

Reading Legal Descriptions:

The trick to reading old legal descriptions is to read it backwards.

For example: S ½ of the NW ¼ of the SE ¼ of the NE ¼ of Sec 21 T5N R11W of the Michigan prime meridian.

Start with the junction of the base line with the Michigan prime meridian (Ingham County).

Then find the fifth (x 6 miles) township north of the meridian and the eleventh (x 6 miles) north of the Michigan base line.
Then find Section 21.
Then divide that section into quarters (four) and find the NE ¼ in the upper right hand corner.
Then divide that into quarters and find the SE ¼ in the lower right hand corner.
Then divide that into quarters and find the NW ¼ in the upper left hand corner.
Then divide that into half horizontally and find the S1/2 in the bottom.

Now if less than a ¼ section, it reads: "part of".

It begins with "commencing at" which then brings you to the Point of Beginning. It is very important to correctly identify the Point of Beginning. Then it will say "thence" so many feet in one direction, thence so many feet in another direction, thence so many feet in a third direction and thence back to the Point of Beginning. And the description must close. Hope for a nice straight rectangle. I like these. If it doesn't close, you know something is wrong.


Commencing 165 feet east of the SW corner of the SE ¼ of SE ¼ of said section
thence north 754.2 feet
thence east 412.5 feet
thence south 754.2 feet
thence west 412.5 feet to beginning

Commencing just tells you how to get to the Point of Beginning. The actual above cemetery description doesn't begin until you've gone 165 feet east of the SW corner. From that point, the cemetery boundary line then goes north 754.2 feet, then east 412.5 feet, then south 754.2 feet and then west 412.5 back to the Point of Beginning which is 165 feet east of the SW corner.

Another method used on large parcels of rural land just gives two directions based on the ¼ section being discussed and it assumes you know how many feet there are in a ¼ section. It may even subtract footage. I hate assumptions.

Example: N 380 feet of the W495 feet of the NE ¼ of the NE ¼ of Sec 24 T9N R11W

So you need to know that a ¼ ¼ section is 660 feet x 660 ft. So it is the north 380 feet of the N/S 660 feet and the west 495 feet of the E/W 660 ft.

Which is shorthand for: commencing 280 feet north of the SW corner
thence north 380 feet
thence east 495 feet,
thence south 380 feet,
thence west 495 feet to the point of beginning.

But what if it isn't straight? What if it deviates even slightly? Now if you've ever sailed or watched old sailing movies, you've heard the expression North by North East. What does that mean? It means its slanted. This slant / indicates N by NE or S by SW. This slant \ indicates N by NW or S by SE

The first letter is always N for North or S for South. Followed by a number between 0 and 90. Then the last letter is E for East or W for West. Zero degrees means due North or South. 90 degrees means due East or West. Any number in-between means it's slanted / \.

So N 89 degrees 3 minutes, 10 seconds E means you go more East than North.
N 4 degrees, 3 minutes, 10 seconds E means you go more North than East.

This method is used commonly but not exclusively when the parcel abuts a river or railroad. Then just think circle…..protractor….radius…..arc.

The assessor uses Tax Descriptions which may or may not match Legal Descriptions used in deeds.The assessor tries to simplify the Legal Description, sometimes by cutting corners which adds to the confusion.

New modern computer age: Permanent Parcel Numbers
Permanent Parcel Numbers are
NOT "permanent". They change whenever the parcel boundary changes and the former number is "retired" and no longer is used and subsequently becomes obsolete and unavailable.

Breakdown of Parcel Number ##-##-##-###-###

The first double number: 41- indicates Kent County
The second double number: 1-24 indicates township
The third double number: 1-36 indicates section
The first number of the triple number sequence: 1##-4## - indicates ¼ section.
The last triple number: ### - indicates a further division of the ¼ section.

Township numbers:

Tyrone 01 Solon 02 Nelson 03 Spencer 04

Sparta 05 Algoma 06 Courtland 07 Oakfield 08

Alpine 09 Plainfield 10 Cannon 11 Grattan 12

Walker 13 Grand Rapids 14 Ada 15 Vergennes 16

Wyoming 17 Paris 18 Cascade 19 Lowell 20

Byron 21 Gaines 22 Caledonia 23 Bowne 24

For section numbers see the above general township-section map
¼ section numbers: 100 = NW ¼ including any sequence: 101,110, 140
200 = NE ¼ including any sequence: 202, 210, 240
300 = SW ¼ including any sequence: 302, 310, 340
400 = SE ¼ including any sequence: 402, 410, 440

Villages and Cities can overlap township and county boundaries. Villages are subordinate to township governments. Cities are not. Many of these villages and cities started out as farm towns, others were a creation of suburban sprawl. The asterisk * indicates suburban sprawl creations. Many of these villages are just "four corners" with a few stores and perhaps a church and have no formal unique local government.

Ada Village - Ada Twp., Sec. 34
Alaska Village - Caledonia Twp., Sec. 10
Alto Village - Bowne Twp., Sec 4
Austerlitz Village - houses and streets still physically there, Plainfield Twp., Sec. 22
Belmont Village - Plainfield Twp., on the line of Sections 15 & 16
Bowne Center Village - Bowne Twp., corner of Sec. 15,16,21,22
Byron Center Village - Byron Twp., corner of Sec. 15, 16, 21, 22
Casnovia Village - Tyrone Twp., Sec. 19, 30;  Muskegon County, Casnovia Tp., Sec. 24, 25
Comstock Park Village - Alpine Twp., Sec. 36
Cannonsburg Village - Cannon Twp., Sec. 26
Cutlerville Village - Gaines Twp.  Although it occurs in Sections 1 and 12 in Byron Twp., it also occurs in Sections 6 and 7 in Gaines Twp.. Byron Twp. considers it mostly as a part of Gaines Twp.
Dutton Village - Gaines Twp., Sec. 11
Grattan Center - Grattan Twp., Sec. 16
Parnell Village - corner Grattan Twp. Sec. 29, 30, 31 32
Whitneyville Village - Cascade Twp., Sec. 26
Caledonia City - Caledonia Twp., Sec. 20, 29
Cedar Springs City -Solon Twp., Sec. 25, 36 and Nelson Twp., Sec. 30, 31
East Grand Rapids City* - Grand Rapids Twp., Sec. 32, 33, 34 and Paris Twp. Sec., 3, 4
Grand Rapids City - Grand Rapids, Paris, Walker, Wyoming townships
Grandville City - Wyoming Tp., Sec. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 16, 17, 18; Walker Twp., Sec. 28, 28, 32, 33
Kent City - Tyrone Twp., Sec. 28, 29, 32, 33
Kentwood City* - Paris Twp., Center located at Sec. 28, 29, 32, 33
Lowell City - Lowell Twp., 1, 2, 3, 10, 11, 12; Small portion in Vergennes Twp., Sec. 35
Rockford City - Algoma Twp., Sec. 25, 35, 36; Cannon Twp., Sec. 6; Courtland Twp., Sec. 30, 31 and Plainfield Twp., Sec. 1
Sand Lake Village -Nelson Twp., Sec. 4, 5
Sparta Village -Sparta Twp., Sec. 14, 15, 22, 23, 24
Walker City* - Walker Twp.,
Wyoming City* - Wyoming Twp., Center located at 28th St. SW and Michael.

 School Districts

The NW Ordinance of 1785 established township governments and reserved Section 16 for the use and financing of the township schools. Only when a city was created, was the authority removed from the township and given to the city. The City of Grand Rapids was created in 1850 and acquired control of two Grand Rapids Twp schools, Central and East Leonard. It also acquired control of a Walker Twp school, Union. Primary schools were grades 1-4. Elementary schools were grades 5-8. One room country schools remained common in the rural townships even into the 1970's. The City of Grand Rapids had the first high school - Central - which graduated its first class in 1862.

It wasn't until about 1976 that state law changed and required that every school district had to have a high school. This change resulted in many rural school districts "consolidating". Then in the 1960's a number of new "cities" were created to avoid the City of Grand Rapids from annexing more township schools. These cities were Kentwood, Wyoming and Walker. Then about 1990 a state property relief scheme called Proposition A changed school funding from local property-tax control to a state-wide lottery. But this scheme did not include maintenance funds for older school buildings forcing them to be closed and reliance on busing.

Barbara Vander Mark 2005, retired Real Property Appraiser for the City of Grand Rapids.

Transcriber: Barbara VanderMark
Created: 29 January 2006