31 January 2013

Quarters are Nicer than Thirtysixths

[note: as of 11:50 AM CST 31 January 2013--Ancestry.com is aware of the editorial mistake a correction is in the work queue.]

This is part of the description for the Wisconsin, Homestead and Cash Entry Patents, Pre-1908 which appears on Ancestry.com. The quote comes from a discussion of property descriptions in Wisconsin.

 The section is the one-mile-square portion (approximately 640 acres) of a township. That was also generally divided into 36 equal squares (each of which might be divided another 36 times)


In Federal land states, theoretical townships (Congressional Townships) are squares 6 miles on a side and usually broken up into 36 sections, each one mile on a side. Sections are theoretically 640 acres. Sections are typically broken up into quartersections--1/4 mile on a side and theoretically containing 160 acres of property. Of course today, property can be virtually any shape or size depending upon how it has been bought, sold, and inherited over time.

This map shows a section broken up into the four quarter sections--labeled NW, SW, and SE. The NE quarter is shown in this image as being broken up into four more quarters.

During settlement, it was common for tracts to be broken up into quarters once (resulting in quarter sections containing 160 acres) or twice (resulting in parcels of 40 acres).

I'm not certain where they got the "divided another 36 times" statement. Quarters and quarters of quarters are easier to mark off given the dimensions of a section--80 chains (the "Ch. in the image) on a side. A section is also 320 rod on a side if that unit of measure is used. Those numbers are easily divisible by 2, 4, 8, and 16--all numbers resulting from halving property various ways and numbers of times. Dividing a section into 36 equally sized pieces may have been done in some cases, but that number of pieces was usually reserved for a township of 36 square miles, not a section of 1 square mile.

I'm hoping the Ancestry.com description above is simply the result of an editorial error or oversight. But the mathematician in me and the farm kid in me (I knew what a plat book was by time I was in junior high) just could not resist a post on this subject.