Land Surveyor Blogs

I was rummaging through some of my files today and came across the Faircloth Notes. The document is called “Land Surveying in Alabama” by James M Faircloth. Faircloth was a professor in the Civil Engineering department at the University of Alabama. (Dr. Turner, it’s still hard for me to type or say that.)

During his 36 years at the University he taught Surveying, collected information and researched all types of historical documents related to surveying in Alabama. The notes are full of practical advice, and not just limited to Alabama. There is enough history, even some Indian stories, that the 20 page document is very interesting.

Since this document is sent to every person preparing to take the Professional Land Surveyors test in Alabama, it must be important. And, I want to talk about one of the main points in the book - what Surveyors duties are on property boundary surveys or land surveying.

First, Faircloth says that Land Surveyors do TWO types of surveys - Original Surveys and Resurveys.

Original Surveys involve the virginal marking out on the ground of boundaries or parcels of land, however great or small; and the establishment of monuments, corners, lines, and divisions of land for the first time.

There is an extensive discussion of the Original Public Land Survey in Alabama later in the notes. I believe we understand Original Surveys pretty well. If we cut a parcel of land (subdivide) into any smaller parcel than the original we are conducting an original survey. That original could have been run in the 1780’s or just last year. (Technically though, when we retrace the original boundary in preparation for subdivision, that is a Resurvey of the overall boundary.)

What I want to dwell on is the Resurvey. According to Faircloth,

Resurveys of lands involve the retracement of lines or boundaries which have already been established or marked upon the ground by authorized persons at some prior time.

Further he adds

...the resurvey is almost solely for the purpose of retracing or again locating the very same original lines, corners or areas. The resurvey involves very little original work, if any, but does involve the execution of a great deal of judgement and intelligent reasoning in attempting to retrace the exact lines and areas of the original or old survey. (my emphasis added)

… In a resurvey it is the function of the surveyor to find where the monuments, courses, lines and boundaries originally were, and not where they ought to have been. Failing in this it is his business to re-establish them as nearly as possible in the place they were originally placed.

As a general rule any deviation from the exact original survey is untenable and illegal. 

That last part “any deviation from the exact original survey is untenable and illegal.” Untenable means indefensible. You know what illegal means. So, are you telling me that I shouldn’t re-size the section to make sure that iron pin I found at a fence corner, or that 36-in tree with wire 12-inches deep in it are in the right location? You’re damn right. That’s exactly what he’s saying. If we have evidence, even a little evidence, a scintilla, that the corners that we find were set “by an authorized person” then THAT IS THE CORNER.

Am I being too dramatic? I think not.

The correctness or the accuracy of the original survey is seldom involved or is rarely of much concern to the person making the resurvey. Usually if the first survey was improperly executed the resurvey must still retrace the same lines and encompass the same areas as the original survey.

And then he hits it again.

In making resurveys the surveyor has no official power to decide disputed points, or to locate new points. He can act only as an expert witness

So, if you set a second pin, or a third or a fourth where an old pin has been for years, and it has been used by all of the adjoining landowners, your actions are UNTENABLE AND ILLEGAL.

“...UNTENABLE and ILLEGAL”

I believe that Faircloth would have used bold and big letters if the typewriter could have done that. So, I’m using them for him.

We understand how to do Precise surveys. I believe that most of us know enough about the many different measurement techniques and the equipment that can be used, that we can measure a line to a precision level of 1:50,000 or better. Heck we could probably get to 1:100,000 on a good day with the right equipment.

But if I’m not finding the original corner or re-establishing it, then my work is just untenable. (That’s my new favorite word. I may try to use it in an argument with somebody soon - “your argument is untenable.” Mic drop!)

OK, I know there are two camps about this out there. There are the people who hold to “locally accepted corners” and those who call them “fence line surveyors.” There are the people who will “size the section” and those of us who call them, well “stupid.” Well now, I’ll just call them untenable.

What do you think? Do you agree with Faircloth? If you don’t, please give me a reference and justification for your position. Let’s settle this once and for all. If you can’t defend your argument, then it’s indefensible. Oh, wait, what was that word? Untenable.

J. Keith Maxwell is a Professional Land Surveyor and Civil Engineer in Alabama where he frequently makes untenable arguments. No wait, not me, only tenable ones.

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Thoughts

  • Great post and many of us have spent a lot of time and energy discussing this very issue. The thing to remember is that Land Surveying practice varies from location to location and there are different customs on how Land Surveys are performed. This is not to even mention the differences in Case Law and Codified Law which are completely at odds with each other from one jurisdiction to the next. Your presentation of a PLS diagram is a perfect example as this does not even exist in many States, including where I am from in Texas. My feeling has always been that the idea is to locate the original boundary placed by the original land surveyor (even if it is nothing but a paper survey). The intent of the original survey is what the Land Surveyor must locate. Unwritten transfers of land through possession or other legal theory are not permitted to be determined by the Land Surveyor. This makes quite a bit of difference in how I look at evidence as compared to say a Land Surveyor in Utah looks at it. Again, great question.

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