Example of a Survey Traverse by SurveyLaw
An Original Survey which divided a single parcel of land into 5 parcels or "Lots".

In a retracement survey, the new surveyor must locate the boundaries at their original locations, i.e., the locations where the original surveyor set the original corners on the ground.  Because physical monuments that mark boundary corners become lost or disturbed over time, and because the new surveyor is required by law to set the corners at exactly the same place the original surveyor set them, retracement surveying is often difficult, time consuming and expensive. When original corners are lost or disturbed the retracement surveyor must know and follow certain legal rules which will affect the corner locations.  If the correct sequence of legal rules is not followed, the new corners may not actually represent their true original locations and both the property owner and surveyor may be subject to liability.

How a typical survey is performed.  The first thing that a surveyor does before going into the field it to obtain copies of the deed of the parcel to be surveyed and the deeds of all abutting properties. If the parcel to be surveyed is in a city block, the surveyor will most likely have to get copies of all of the deeds in the block.  This is because the location of the streets making up the block are fixed on the ground and the sum of all of the deed distances between the streets may not add up to the actual distance between the streets.  For example, the image at the top shows 5 lots in a city block, each lot being 100' wide.  However the distance between Wright St. and Wong St. only measures 495'.  In other words, there is not enough room between the streets for all of the lots to have 100' of width. There are legal rules, which are too complex to describe here, that the surveyor must follow in order to know how to deal with the 5 foot deficiency

Once the surveyor has all of the deeds the surveyor will go out into the field in order to look for the physical evidence called-for in the deeds.  For example consider the image below which shows a single parcel of land with two buildings on it  The corners are marked with the notation "DH CB" either (set) or (fd).  These abbreviations mean "Concrete Bound" either "set" or "found".  The notation on the plan indicates whether the surveyor who drew the plan actually set the bound or if he found the bound when he performed the survey.  If the bound was found, it would have probably been set by a previous surveyor, perhaps the original surveyor.  A concrete bound is a square piece of concrete, often 3 feet in depth which is set in the ground to mark a boundary corner.  In this case the deed for the subject property would have called for the concrete bounds at all four corners.


Assume that in the survey depicted at the right that the deed called for all four bounds but when your surveyor went into the field he was only able to find the bounds at points A and C.  The bounds at B and D have gone missing.  The surveyor would use the bearings and distances recited in your deed, and the remaining bounds A and C to set the missing bounds at points B and D and label them as "set" on his plan.  By clearly labeling which bounds were found and which were set, the plan makes it clear to other surveyors and others reading the plan exactly what the surveyor found on the ground and the actual work that the surveyor performed.  This is another example of a surveyor following the legal rules in Massachusetts.  All physical evidence such as bounds and other property markers must be labeled as set or found.

Traverse Lines.  Because many property lines run along fences or walls which act as obstructions making it difficult to measure along the lines, it is usually not convenient for surveyors to try to measure exactly along the boundaries.  Surveyors solve this problem by running "Traverse Lines".  Traverse lines are simply offset survey lines that a surveyor runs where there is a clear line-of-sight (no obstructions) between the traverse corners.  The traverse lines are shown as red dashed lines on the image at the right.  The traverse corners are numbered from 1 to 5.  You can see that the traverse lines are in the general vicinity of the boundary lines but they are located so as to miss obstructions.  Notice that line 3-4 was located in order to clear both buildings.  Once the traverse lines have been measured, the traverse points (numbered 1-5) can be used to set the actual lot corners.  The short dashed blue lines, for example 5-D, show the connection between the traverse corner and the boundary corner.


An Original Survey which divided a single parcel of land into 5 parcels or "Lots".

SurveyLaw - Land Surveying and Legal Services Fall River MA
At SurveyLaw we perform Boundary Surveys, Lot Surveys, Subdivisions of Land, Perimeter Surveys and Construction Surveys. Although we can perform surveys in any area in MA much of our work is in the Southeastern MA, Cape Cod area.
757 Division Rd.
Westport, MA
(508) 636-9100

Boundary surveying is the branch of land surveying in which a licensed surveyor establishes the boundaries of a parcel of land on the ground.  In Massachusetts and in all other states a surveyor must be licensed by the state as a Professional Land Surveyor before he or she can be retained by a client to establish their boundaries.

Types of Boundary Surveys.  There are two basic types of boundary surveys: Original Surveys and Retracement Surveys.  An original survey creates new boundaries.  A retracement survey is simply a new survey of a parcel of land that has already been created by an original survey.  The image at the right shows a parcel of land between two streets that was divided into 5 parcels or "Lots".  When the surveyor first created these lots and drew the plan the survey would have been an original survey.  Assume that all 5 lots were sold to different people  Assume you own lot number 3 and can't find the corners of your lot.   When you hire a surveyor to set your lot corners, the surveyor will perform a retracement survey.  It cannot be an original survey because your parcel is already in existence.  there can only be one original survey, the survey that originally created the 5 lots.

land surveying & legal services  (508) 636-9100