Cody Wolfe, GIS Technician

Cody Wolfe, GIS Technician

Welcome to the second posts in this series on reading legal descriptions. In the last post, I shared the fundamentals of understanding the Public Land Surveying System (PLSS), which is vital in getting to where your parcel is going to be described. The next step – understanding legal description terminology and the different parts of a legal description – is just as important.

Before we dive into the terminology, let’s look at the different parts of a legal description. The main body of the description is where you will find the information about the parcel but first, we need to know its location properties, like state and county.

As well as state and county, the different parts of the legal description comprise Township, Range, Section and Portion of the section. This is why understanding the PLSS was an important first step in reading parcel descriptions. These parts of the legal will help you find the parcel’s location.

Here is an example of what you would see before the body of the legal or the description of the parcel:

“Part of the Northwest Quarter of Section 3, Township XXX North, Range XXX West, County, Minnesota, describes as follows…” then it would continue to further describe the parcel.


When it comes to the terminology of legal descriptions, many different phrases and words are used within the description. There are many we could discuss but I will focus on the most common ones.

Commencement Point – the commencement point is a reference point and where the survey or description is starting. Many times the commencement point is a known point, like a corner of a subdivision or the corner of a section or quarter section.

Point of Beginning (POB) – the point of beginning is where the actual parcel boundary begins. This means that the lines from the commencement point to the POB are describing how to get from a known or surveyed point to the beginning of the described parcel.

Bearing/Direction and Distance – in a legal description, this is how a parcel polygon is described. The distance, of course, is how long or far the described line is, which can vary in unit of measurement, whether feet, meters, or links and chains.

Bearing is the direction a line is traveling. This can consist of many other terms like along, parallel or perpendicular to a referenced point or object. Most surveyed descriptions will have the bearing and looks like this: N 89°56’23” W (North 89 Degrees, 56 minutes, 23 seconds West).

Thence – this term is very simple: thence simply takes the place of then. This is placed at the end of a described line and indicates, then go to your next described line.

Putting together key terminology with an understanding of the PLSS should help you get well on your way to reading a legal description.

Look out for another upcoming post that will dive even deeper into reading legal descriptions.