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Public History: Doing a House History: Step 4: Legal Property Description

This guide provides detailed instructions for the house history assignment.

Helpful House History Resources Online

Step 4: Finding the Legal Property Description of the House

It is important that you understand the structure of most legal property descriptions in the United States.  This Wikipedia article on the Public Land Survey System provides a helpful introduction.  Pay particular attention to the definitions of ranges, sections, and townships.  

Traditionally, plat maps are used to determine the legal property descriptions.  We are going to use current property tax information accessible online to correlate the house's address to its legal property description.  

(1) Point your browser to:

(2) Click on "Property Data" in the column on the left.

(3) Click on "Elkhart County Indiana GIS Website.

(4) Enter the Enterprise GIS Website as a guest.

(5) Using the dropdown menu on the seach box in the upper left corner, search by "Property Street."

(6) Enter your house's address into the search box (e.g. "1324 S 8th").  Use no punctuation, and do not type out "south."  When the database locates the address or one similar, it will "suggest" addresses below the search boxes.  Click on the correct "suggested" address.

(7) You will see an outline of the property's boundary in blue.  Below it, you will see a data table.  On the bottom right, there is an "Actions" heading.  Hover your cursor over the green icon on the left.  The title "Property Report Card" will appear.  Click on the green icon to reveal the report card.

(8) Your property's "Parcel Number" and "Legal Discription" will display below the satellite image of the property.  These together are required for your assignment.

While you are on this Web site, look for other helpful information.  Can you find the date of construction?  Dimensions of the house?  Information about external features?  There's great information here for the taking!