How My Father Learned Mapping
By Michael A. Holden
Did you ever look at a meets and bounds legal description and wonder how many acres it contained? Or if the legal description properly ‘closed’? My father can, and he is the only title person I have ever met who has that skill. Very few children who enter their parent’s profession ever exceed the skill and expertise of their parents. History is populated with many such examples. John Adams, our second president of the United States, served as George Washington’s Vice President, served one term as President and was a co-drafter and signor of the Declaration of Independence. John’s son, John Quincy Adams was an accomplished statesman and served as the 6th President of the United States for one term. However, John Quincy is remembered mostly as a diplomat and Secretary of State who negotiated the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812. He is remembered neither as a founding father of our country nor as an exceptional President.
My Father, Sidney K. Holden began his career in January 1946 shortly after his discharge from the United States Navy. It was not long into my father’s career that serendipity put his career path on an unusual trajectory. Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act in June 1956, and on August 13, 1956, the State of Missouri awarded the first construction contract for the construction of Interstate 70 in St. Charles County. That construction was to upgrade the existing U.S. Highway 40 through that county. In addition, a new road corridor was needed through St. Louis County to connect St. Charles County to Illinois and the Mississippi River where famous Route 66 crossed the river. (Today, Route 66 is known as Interstate Highway 44). This new corridor needed to have rights of way acquired from adjoining landowners, and those landowners needed to be determined. This challenge was put to my father and our family’s title agency. Armed with a line drawn on a map from the highway commission, his task was to draw and map every legal description that was within 200 feet of that line and determine if the owner of the property would have to convey right of way for the construction of the road. In four years time, my father drew over 4,000 legal descriptions. A pencil, paper, scale and compass were his only tools. He became so proficient at reading legal descriptions that he could glance at a description on a deed and, in his head, have a good idea of how much area the description included.
As my father’s pupil, my training included exposure to this skill. I learned how to draw legal descriptions, using the tools of the trade. But what took me an hour to draw usually took my father 10 minutes. Even into the early 1990s, it was still common to draw a meets and bounds description for every title we examined at our agency. But I never became as proficient as my father.
Today, very few if any title professionals know how to draw by hand a legal description. The advent of computer aided drafting has allowed this ability to fall by the wayside. If drawings are done, they are done entirely by computer, and title agents seldom know the mathematics and the technique to do so. Like many skills, such as typing a title policy from scratch or a settlement statement without a computer, the art of drawing a legal description has been lost in our industry. Today even Computer-aided drafting is becoming out of favor. With so many underwriters willing to insure loan policies, and granting survey coverage without a survey or plot, the very technology that was created to replace human skill is in danger of going away as well. What is more evident is the skills of just 20 or 30 years ago are no longer needed, but new skills are required to run today’s title agencies. Computer use now dominates our industry, when just 30 years ago title was done the same way it was done 100 years ago. And the scariest part is without the human skill behind the work, there is no way to determine if the computer is right or wrong. We just trust the output from the computer and seldom question it.
Is drawing a legal description a skill that is needed in today’s title agency? Probably not. Many skills that the former generation of title professionals needed are no longer part of today’s title agency business. But it would behoove us to retain enough of the knowledge and skill to at least monitor the accuracy of the computer output. My father was a master of legal description mapping. I will never achieve his proficiency, but I am grateful to have learned the skill from one of the best.
“For rarely are sons similar to their fathers: most are worse, and few are better than their fathers”-Homer, Greek author of the Odyssey and the Iliad.
About the Author
Since 1989 Michael has held several roles in the title industry. The first 18 years of his career, Michael worked as a licensed title agent and managed a multimillion dollar title agency with 17 offices and 100 employees. Read More...
Michael A. Holden has published stories from his family's 100 years in the title industry in his book, The Ramblings of a Title Man, which can be purchased online through Lulu.com.