IOWA STORIES
Volume 2

By
CLARENCE RAY AURNER

Printed by the Clio Press Iowa City, Iowa 1918
Copyright 1918 by Clarence Ray Aurner

Transcribed by Sharon Elijah, June 21, 2013

IV.
THE HISTORY OF A PIECE OF LAND
pgs 41-48

When land is bought or sold, the one who sells gives to the buyer a paper called a deed. Along with this deed goes another and usually a much longer paper which is called an ´┐Żabstract of title´┐Ż. The abstract is a history of the piece of land from the very beginning, when it belonged to the United States, to the time when the last owner got it. Unless an owner has a complete abstract or history of his real estate, that is his land, someone might lay claim to it; and it would be difficult indeed to prove the ownership without the long history.

Each piece of land, great or small, then, has a history of its own just as each person has, and this history should be interesting to any owner. And yet very many never think about the previous history of the land on which they now live. At all events there is no other piece of land just like theirs.


pg 42
This is easy to see if one is willing to learn about the township in which the land described lies. Now there are different kinds of townships; and they must be carefully distinguished to avoid confusion. For example, the first, laid out as soon as the country was bought or taken from the Indians, were six miles square (See diagram). Lines were drawn six miles apart each way; and in these squares, which are six miles on each side, there are thirty-six smaller squares. Each of the smaller squares contains 640 acres of land and is, as one may see, one mile on each side. Therefore, when one speaks of a square mile or a section of land, he is really talking of 640 acres. By dividing this into four parts, one has a quarter of the whole, or 160 acres, which is one-half mile on each side and is the very common quarter-section farm of Iowa. Since a square mile is a section, thirty-six of these sections make a township of land, which is called a congressional or a geographical township. These can not be change by any one; they are to describe land, and one who knows the description of his land can find it on the map. If farms were taken in Iowa as some were (See Book One, pp. 70,71) before these townships were laid out by surveyors, their boundaries would be very uncertain and would need to be fixed after the lines had been properly run.

But there is another kind of township with which all citizens should become acquainted. It may have the same boundaries as the one just described in the paragraph above; or it may be quite different.


pg 44
In the first chapter it was said the first counties of Dubuque and Demoine were also each of them a single township. That is to say, they had some officers who performed the duties of township officers in the Territory of Michigan. It so happened that at first when the two counties were divided, each of the smaller divisions was also a single township, and this arrangement was not changed until a law for the making of smaller townships within the county was passed in 1840. Afterwards the county officers, who were called county commissioner at the time, as one will learn, had power to make new divisions. These are known as civil townships, because they are made for the purpose of government by the citizens who live in them. All who are born in the United States, or have come here from some other country and declared that they would become citizens, as they can after they have been here for five years, are citizens and have some interest in these divisions of the county. Men vote in these townships and the schools for their families are managed there.

The first civil townships less than a whole county in size were made in Cedar County. There were only five at that time, whereas there are now seventeen. It was usual to make only large divisions at first; for until the counties were more fully settled there was no demand for smaller divisions. The division of the county into townships was much the same as the divisions in the first large counties.


pg 46
In the making of the first civil townships no attention was paid to the lines of congressional or geographical townships (those always six miles square and used to describe the land), unless it was the wish of the people in the township to have them that way. And if a stream prevented the voters from coming together in a township of that kind, all the land on one side would be put into some other civil township (See maps, pp. 44, 46). Thus things were arranged to accommodate the people. It was a long time before all the counties which have been mentioned were finally divided into townships as they are now. It ought to interest anyone to learn about the townships in his own county, and about the time that they were formed.

Should one wish to know about these things and just how they took place, he might ask the county auditor of his own county. And if any one desires to find out who owns the lot or farm next to his, he should go to the same office. Or if he would like to know who had owned the land through all its history he could read his abstract of title or, taking a harder way, go to the office of the county recorder and trace the whole history through. That would not be an easy thing do do, for making out abstracts requires training and only men with special skill know where to look for all the items. Sometimes bad mistakes are made by abstracters and then much trouble may be caused the owner of the who wishes to sell it; for when a man buys land, he wants to be sure that the title is good, and he can insist on its being made good before he will take the land. If any one ever owns land, no matter how small a piece, his name will go into the records of the county where it is owned.


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