Forestry Faculty and Student Consolidate Field Notes, Survey Plats Into Comprehensive Database

MONTICELLO, AR —  Two faculty members from the School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, in collaboration with a UAM undergraduate student, have consolidated field notes and survey plats into a searchable electronic database for land surveyors in Arkansas.

            Dr. John Dennis, assistant professor of surveying and spatial information systems, and Tom Jacobs, surveying instructor and a licensed surveyor, began work on the project in 2014 with help from Jeremy Plummer of Sheridan, at the time an undergraduate student in spatial information systems currently employed by the Conway engineering firm Crafton Tull.

            The purpose of the two-phase project was to pull together information from different locations to create a clearinghouse for surveyors to provide easy access to data that used to be scattered among courthouses all over the state. The first phase was to geo-reference the original plats from the General Land Office (GLO), attaching latitude and longitude information to each plat. In total, 1,716 plats were geo-referenced to the township and range corners for Arkansas provided to the Arkansas Geographic Information Systems Office. The second phase involved linking the transcribed field notes to each plat.

            Beginning in 1815, surveyors contracted by the GLO began the tedious process of surveying the lands of Arkansas.  They reordered their work along with descriptions of the lands in books, which were commonly referred to as field notes.  The majority of these surveys were completed by the mid-1850’s and it was in the 1930’s that the field notes were transcribed as part of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) program.  “While these surveys still continue today, having access to the invaluable resources in one location and geographically linked to their respective location is unprecedented,” said Dennis.  “It is these field notes that are an indispensable record for the land surveyor as well as anyone else who is interested in the history of Arkansas and the United States.”

            According to Dennis and Jacobs, there are 1,553 townships in Arkansas, each approximately six miles square. “The legal descriptions for most of the lands in Arkansas begin at the initial point,” Dennis explained. “This initial point is where a large portion of the survey of the Louisiana Purchase began and it is where the majority of all legal land descriptions for Arkansas, as well as five other U.S. States, originates. The initial point is located at the intersection of Monroe, Lee and Phillips Counties in the Louisiana Purchase State Park.”

            Anyone who wishes to access the information compiled by Dennis and Jacobs may go to the Division of Land Surveys website ( and click on the “GLO Map” link at the top of the page. A map of Arkansas appears divided into the 1,553 townships. By clicking on any township, a surveyor may access searchable PDF files containing the transcribed field notes for the boundary surveys, re-surveys of the boundaries, original subdivision-surveys, resurveys of the subdivision, and any miscellaneous surveys of that township.

            The project was funded by two grants from the Arkansas Commissioner of Lands. “I don’t know of another state that has a one-stop shop like this,” said Dennis.

            For more information, contact Dennis at (870) 460-1052 or Tom Jacobs at (870) 460-1694.


Dr. John Dennis (left) and Tom Jacobs (right) have created a searchable online database for land surveyors.


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