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Everything You Need to Know About Cadastral Maps

If you own a house, chances are a cadastral map has been created to record your real estate and property. But did you know that each property has a cadastral reference number? If you have the deed of sale or your tax information handy, you can easily locate this information. But what is a cadastral map, and what do we use it for? 

The History of Cadastral Maps

The history of cadastral maps is traced back to ancient Egyptians who developed these maps. One of the oldest forms of map tracking, they were created and used to establish land ownership. When flooding began, the records were created and established ownership moving forward.

In ancient Rome, emperors started using cadastral maps for taxation. These maps had three challenges throughout history. They needed to be accurate, accessible for all, and complete. While it took many years, computers and technology changed the game. Despite the many updates to cadastral maps over the years, their main purpose hasn’t changed too much. These maps are still used for proving land ownership and taxing the landowners. 

How Cadastral Maps are Made

Land registry surveying tools set up outside

A cadastral surveyor, who must adhere to legal and spatial principles, determines the boundaries of a property. Cross-referencing deeds, maps of nearby properties, county and utility maps, records, and other legal documents can establish the property’s official boundaries.

Have you ever seen a person standing on property in your neighborhood with a tripod-looking tool (also known as a ranging rod) and wondered what they were doing? These are the surveyors, and their job is to verify the information found and confirm it matches the documentation or track the data to create the maps with the information. This is especially common for newly built construction that would have no map history.

Components of Cadastral Maps

  • Details of the ownership
  • Tenure
  • Precise location
  • Dimensions and area
  • Cultivations, if rural
  • Value of individual parcels of land 

Why Cadastral Maps are Essential

Cadastral mapping is our only way of providing accurate and legitimate information regarding legal land rights. For example, if you buy a house and are curious about where your property line ends, you can check your local county for the cadastral plan of your land. These maps have been used to determine land ownership in many legal battles.

States use these maps to show draining, land features, roads, forests, and property ownership. This allows them to plan new developments, tax your property correctly, ensure that resources like water and sewage can be routed to new areas, and claim unowned land. 

How We Use Cadastral Maps

Cadastral maps are used for tax purposes, land ownership claims, land value, mortgage ownership, zoning, urban planning, and so much more. This allows states, counties, and even countries to plan for new developments, evacuations, and backup resources.

This information is also held with the Bureau of Land Management. Their survey program has been storing data for over 200 years. It continues to be updated with new information, making it a wealth of knowledge. 

Cadastral Symbols

Land Registry image next to cadastral map

Cadastral maps have numerous symbols. Some of the most popular include those for homes, trees, graveyards, bodies of water, and roads. While there are hundreds of other symbols, these commonly used ones are frequently used by developers who need to separate land into plots for each section of a new development.

These symbols also allow us to stack layers onto the map to show different demographics and information. For example, the bottom layer may show land plots, while the middle layer shows utility lines, and the top layer shows property lines, streets, and houses.

Cadastral Maps vs. Cadastral Plans

A cadastral plan is the individual map created where all pertinent information is stored about that specific piece of land. Then, these plans are put together to create a map of the larger area. 

How Cadastral Maps Have Gone Digital

The geographic information system (GIS) is a database that contains geographic data. By digitizing cadastral maps, a database was created that houses all this information. The United States Bureau of Land Management uses the data to have definitive information on property lines and the history of the land map.

All About the Geographic Information System

  • History
  • Uses
  • Updates

History of Maps and the GIS

Digital Elevation of a city using the GIS system

The GIS started in the 1960s as computers began to emerge. Developed by Roger Tomlinson for the Canadian government, the goal was to create a manageable inventory of the information. Over time, different software tools were created, and by 1981, the GIS had evolved and was being used daily. 

Using GIS Today

The GIS has given people the ability to create their digital map with layers, helping to solve real-world problems. In addition, it is a huge source for data sharing and collaboration. From just mapping out land to what is on that land, assessing its value, and providing ownership, the GIS has continued to evolve with technology!

GIS technology is also used at the forefront of infrastructure and development planning. While the data continues to be fed into the system, it can be compared with others, allowing us to see population, income, or even education comparisons.

How Does the GIS Stay Up to Date?

There are quite a few ways the GIS receives its data in order to keep it up to date. Cartographers, who draw and produce maps, will directly enter maps into the GIS. Digital data collected by satellites can also be entered directly into the system. Another significant contribution to the GIS is aerial photographs. From a simple spreadsheet with demographic information to data from a drone, any relevant information can be updated into the GIS.

Whether it is new information or an update of existing information, the GIS has made it easy to upload data to its system. Once submitted, it compiles the information and creates new maps and data (if none exists) or updates existing data. 

How to Look Up Your Own Cadastral Data

After reading this, you may be curious if you can look up the map for your property. Your state should have a website that houses all this data, or you can go to the local city hall and request a copy of your property's map.

Person marking a cadastral map

Pretty cool, huh? The history of these maps continues to provide us with a wealth of knowledge. If you are looking to buy land yourself or book a rental property for your next trip to the Great Lakes, these maps can be a great resource to provide you with everything you need to know and prepare for. If you already own a home, you can use cadastral maps to learn more about your property lines and the land around you. Finally, don’t forget to commemorate your land or vacation with a high-quality wood map to decorate your home.


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