As mentioned in yesterday's post, the 13 original colonies used a system of metes and bounds [landmarks] to map out property. States that were carved from the original 13 used the same system. [CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME, DE, MD, NY, NJ, PA, GA, VA, WV, TN, KY, NC, SC]
The following states use the PLSS plus a combination of metes and bounds, land grants or other formats: CA, HI, LA, NM, TX,WI, MI, WA, OR, ID, WY & Ohio [Virginia Military District & Connecticut Western Reserve.]
The rest use the PLSS. In this system townships of 36 square miles set up by baselines [E-W] & principal meridians [N-S]. Each township is divided into 36 sections of 1 square mile each. The township is bordered by range [N-S] & township [E-W] lines. Each section is divided into quarter-sections [NE, NW, SE, SW] of 160 acres each. The sections could also be quartered. [see the Wikipedia article or other pages explaining the PLSS for diagrams on how the townships and sections were divided.]
If a settler purchased a tract of land within the PLSS states, the land patent would read as follows:
W1/2NE of Section 20, township 21N, range 15E, 2nd Prime Meridian, State & County where purchased.
The Bureau of Land Management - General Land Office website offers a searchable database for land patents under the PLSS.
Arphax Publishing offers "Family Maps," a series of spiral bound books containing land survey [plat] maps for various counties in 24 states. These maps show the original patentee with the date of purchase. The books are a fantastic resource for locating ancestral property. You can locate the land and visit the site when in the area. Modern-day maps are also included in the book to help you locate crossroads and landmarks. [arphax.com]