Applied history

Here’s a profession where history reading is a critical skill:

Robert Young writes down the measurements recorded by state-of-the-art digital equipment held by survey party chief Barry Brown.

Photo by J. G. Domke, special to Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.

Caption: Robert Young writes down the measurements recorded by state-of-the-art digital equipment held by survey party chief Barry Brown.

See excerpts of the story, about George Washington’s profession, below the fold.

J. G. Domke is a free-lance reporter, reporting to the Star-Telegram. Domke got an article into today’s Star-Telegram, “Surveying combines history, technology.” The article says:

It might be easy to say that your land goes from the fence to the road and that you own 100 acres, but in reality you might own less and the fence may be on the neighbor’s property. The only way to know for sure is to have it surveyed.

Land transactions in Texas are especially closely scrutinized from a history viewpoint. Ownership of the land and the underlying, generally separated mineral rights dictate who can get rich off the oil, coal or other minerals, and who can keep surface occupancy (you may own the land, but you must vacate to let the coalminers strip mine the coal underneath . . .).

Due diligence work even has a specialist in Texas that many other states don’t have: A Texas Landman, generally an expert in deeds and surveys, and one the lawyers go to in order to figure out sticky ownership challenges, especially where oil rights are split to the descendants of a landowner, three or four generations ago (do you know off the top of your head what 1/24th of a 1/6th interest is?).

Especially in commercial real estate, such a leasing or licensing land for towers for cellular telephone systems, all the paper must be scrutinized as far back as recorded history for that piece of land, before the banks will sign-off on the deal.

Mr. Domke writes:

The fence is simply for keeping cattle from getting loose,” says Robert Young, president of Frontier Surveying. He has to find the original markers and then, with state-of-the-art tools, find the property boundary.

Corpus Christi-based Frontier Surveying specializes in meeting the needs of its clients — energy companies, drilling and pipeline companies — who have to pay royalties to property owners and those who own the mineral rights to the land.

Young says in North Texas he might have to research records dating back to the 1840s, when the Republic of Texas gave away land and issued “empresario contracts” to bring people to Texas. In South Texas, he goes back to Spanish land grants to find the true property lines.

Why do I say it requires a knowledge of history?

Ben Thomson, director of surveying for the Texas General Land Office, says that throughout Texas there are gaps between two properties or overlapping property lines that force courts to go way back to the original land sale, and which send surveyors out into the field.

“My job is to know the true history of the state of Texas,” Young says. “They teach history in school, but they don’t go into the depths of the sovereignty and the fact of how did Texas get this land settled.”

There were 5,000 surveyors in Texas a couple of decades ago, but only about 2,500 today, and they have an average age of 63. With the boom in natural gas drilling, and the boom in residential development, and the various technology booms, demand is increasing for surveyors and Landmen.

Who said there are no practical applications for history?

6 Responses to Applied history

  1. supratall says:

    Thanks for the reply. Please email me the name of a landman you would recommend.

    Sorry that I left out that this is in Dickens County.

    I am pretty good at finding stuff on the web, but I have not seen land ownership sites.

    Pointers welcome.


  2. Bill H. says:

    I live in central Texas where there is a huge amount of natural gas drilling activity.
    My grandfather owned and sold about 1000 acres over the past 50 or 60 years where there are now 100’s of wells, etc. Is it possible some of those transactions should be researched and reviewed in the chance some “t”was not crossed or “i” dotted, or he was swindled etc.? How much would that cost? Your thoughts, please. Thanks


  3. Ed Darrell says:

    [Ouch! The photo went away. I can’t find another version to link to. Drat.]

    You’d probably do well to hire a Texas Landman to review a sample of the transactions to see if there was any changeable hanky-panky. Oil companies are generally much too careful to be caught, but it’s possible your grandfather dumped mineral rights too cheaply. It’s also quite possible that he never owned the mineral rights, if he bought the land any time after about 1930.

    It’s also possible that there were deals done, and money now due your grandfather, and the companies don’t know where to find an heir. A certified Texas Landman could help you figure out whether it’s worth doing anything more, for a few hundred dollars, I would think.

    You might be able to do a lot of the searches — go to the county records office and see what you can find recorded for deeds and leases under your Grandfather’s name. A landman or an experienced title searcher could do it quicker, but maybe you’ll find what you need to know.


  4. Thanks for the reply. Please email me the name of a landman you would recommend.

    Sorry that I left out that this is in Dickens County.

    I am pretty good at finding stuff on the web, but I have not seen land ownership sites.

    Pointers welcome.


  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Wonderful question. You need to find a certified Texas Landman. One question is whether there is a well or pooling arrangement that includes the mineral rights on that property — that is probably pretty easy to determine, for a landman, at the county records office (you don’t say what county — you may want to look; much of this material has been put on line, some of it freely available, some for a modest fee).

    Of course, there is a possibility that there were royalties due in the past that are being held in escrow, too — if the oil company lost the address.

    If there isn’t money coming in to anyone you know, I rather doubt that there is money there. Texas oil has been eclipsed by gas; stripper wells dominate a lot of the old fields (a stripper is a well that pulls the dregs out — one or two barrels a day, maybe) — though at $70.00/bbl, there have been a lot of strippers reactivated that I’ve seen lately.

    I know a couple of good landmen . . .


  6. A question in applied West Texas History. My grandfather sold 40/166.9 of the minerals in the NW Quarter of Section 337 Block 1 HGNRR survey cert 10/2064 to J. B Prewitt of Rawls, TX on March 4, 1950. My Grandfather was J.M. Steele and his wife Hattie. C. Steele were co-owners of the surface and all the minearals.

    Applied History? How do I find out if I still own any of these minearals. I am the sole heir of J.M. and Hattie Steele.


    PS I have no idea if the minerals are now valuable, but at $70/bl there’s lots of drilling.


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