Plans for the rest of the year and some for next…

Before I start the next series of my blog, I just wanted to give a quick update for me and the rest of the year and some exciting things starting next year.

First, the last Mastering Genealogical Proof study group for 2022 is starting next week. You only have a few days left to register if you are interested. (The 2023 schedule is still being formed for both MGP and MGD so stay tuned.) You can check the webpage for all class schedules or follow my Facebook page or subscribe to this blog to be kept up to date. (At the bottom of each page is a place to enter your email address to get updates to my blog.)

Scroll to the bottom of this page to find the location for getting emails when a new blog post is published.

Second, I am starting a new group focused on WRITING in 2023. It is called the “Writer’s Workshop Group 2023” and will be held once per month to allow for attendees to work on various aspects of their writing. More information and registration can be found here. The class size is limited so do not wait to sign up!

Third, Cyndi Ingle (of Cyndi’s List) and I will be holding our NGSQ study groups again next year. If you have not participated, but would like to be notified when registration happens, please sign up on the waitlist here.

Fourth, I will be participating in the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference in April 2023. I am going to present the keynote on Thursday titled “The Virtue of the Great Lakes: Contributions to Westward Expansion,” as well as several other lectures.

Fifth, I am excited to be coordinating our Great Lakes course again at GRIP in June 2023. The instructors are myself, Cyndi Ingle, Paula Stuart-Warren, and Judy Russell. We had a blast last time and many good comments so we are excited to do it again. It is one of my favorite topics.

I am always providing webinars throughout the year. Between living through the pandemic and now having a full-time job, I have decided to limit my in-person speaking. So, I will mostly be found at online events. (No gas money, driving through stressful traffic, not to mention the time commitment for travel. Not only is that easier for me and less expense for the societies I’m speaking to, it is better for the environment.) My speaking calendar can be found at the bottom of my webpages or click here. I hope to see you at any of the events above.

Next Round of Mastering Genealogical Proof Study Groups are Forming!

Our next round of Mastering Genealogical Proof study groups is forming! We are studying the book by Tom Jones and working through the workbook questions. These two groups will be lead by Cyndi Ingle (of Cyndi’s List). Here are the details:

  • There will be two sessions: Wednesday daytime at 3pm Eastern, and Wednesday evenings at 7pm Eastern (so adjust for your time zone), both being led by Cyndi Ingle. Beginning October 5 – November 16, 2022 (7 weeks, plus optional 8th week). Each class will be about an hour.
  • We will meet on Zoom.
  • Cost for the course: $75
  • You will need to have the book, Mastering Genealogical Proof by Tom Jones. It can be purchased on Amazon or through the National Genealogical Society if you don’t already have it.
  • There are questions in the book that we will use to guide discussion. Reading the chapter and answering the discussion questions will prepare you for each week’s class.
  • For first half (or so) of each class session, we will present/recap the principles for that week (we’ll have slides).
  • The second half will be going over the discussion questions.
  • There will also be a private Facebook group for this class only so you can ask questions and discuss issues in-between class sessions.
  • Class size is limited to 25.

Choose either of these two times, click the link to register:

We look forward to studying with you!

If this session does not work for you, we will be holding the next session in 2023. To be notified when registration opens for the next session, please click this link to sign up for the waitlist. (This waitlist is just a way for us to collect your email so we can notify you of registration and is not a guarantee of a seat in the class.)

Why You Should Use Cyndi’s List: Words from Cyndi Herself

Since I wrote a blog series about using Cyndi’s List, I thought I’d ask Cyndi some questions that had been lingering after writing about her website. Here are the words straight from the desk of Cyndi. Enjoy!

Give a brief origin story for Cyndi’s List. How’d you get started? What made you want to turn this into a business?

I’m a member of the Tacoma-Pierce County Genealogical Society. Every summer we take time off, but in September we get back together and do a show-and-tell. In September 1995 my show-and-tell was that I had bought a new computer and started exploring the Internet for genealogy. I made a list, a whole page long, of everything I could find online for genealogy. The quarterly editor cornered me and asked if I could make it into a longer article, maybe 5 to 6 pages long. I told her I could, but I would have to probably categorize the links. It was published that fall. And in January 1996 I started teaching myself how to write HTML and put up a rudimentary personal web site on 4 March 1996 that included this little side-page with a list of links from that article. It was never intended to be a business. But by 1997-8 it had gained notoriety online and the various genealogy companies came knocking. I had sponsorship from Sierra Online for about 3 years, started running ads on the site and before I knew it, it was a business.

What has been the biggest frustration of running the website? What’s the biggest misunderstanding of what you do or how the site works? (Or both?)

There are several frustrations throughout the years. In general, it comes down to people and their perceptions of the web site or of me running the web site. I have had people insist that I add links to their sites within their timeline. I have had people argue that Cyndi is not a real person and that there is a team of people who run the site. I have had people copy my work and slap their own name on it. I have had people assume a lot about me, about the contents of the site, and about what I do and how I do it. Most of the time that assumption is that things must be automated, and the site run by many.

First, it really is just me. I have had some help here and there throughout the years, but it is a one-woman show. I do need to sleep and eat sometimes. And I do have other obligations. I do my best to keep up with the requests for links and the broken link reports. But I’m only human. And all this work is done manually, one at a time. I am a genealogist with 42 years of experience. I use that experience and my tech abilities to track down everything I can find for genealogical research. Then I determine ways to categorize and sub-categorize the links to make it as easy to find as possible. I try to outthink my fellow genealogist by cross-referencing whenever I can. And I spend a lot of time educating myself on new topics to build new categories or to improve on old ones. As one person, I would greatly appreciate patience and kindness from the people who use the site.

Probably one of the most frustrating statements I hear is that the site is just too big. That’s like saying there are too many books in the library. What it means is that the general user doesn’t know how to focus their research when using the site. You don’t use the entire site if you only need to look for resources in Ohio. You just browse to the U.S. and then Ohio.

And another frustrating statement I hear, “I used to use Cyndi’s List. Now I just use Google.” Well, if you don’t know that something exists in the first place, how would you know to Google for it? That’s my standard answer and it fits. Browsing Cyndi’s List and the categories, sub-categories, and links is the strength of the site. Finding things that you didn’t know were out there. Or things that Google cannot reach or didn’t reach and bring back in your searches. Please trust this experienced genealogist to find them for you.

And last, I wish wish wish that people would let me know when they change their sites or move their sites. I often get a lot of communication from people who want me to add a new link to their website. But, after that I don’t often hear from them again. I don’t think it occurs to them to let me know when I need to update those links. But, a broken link to their site is not great advertising for their site. And I don’t know when links break unless I physically check them myself or when someone else informs me. 

How do you make a living?

The site is free for everyone to access and to use. It costs the visitor nothing. But the site costs money for me to maintain and to run. And my 12-hour workdays mean this is a real-live job. My income from Cyndi’s List comes from advertising and affiliate links. You will see graphic ads around the edges of every page – along the top, sides, and the bottom. Google AdSense is also inserting some new ads that popup and sometimes get inserted in the text (not yet sure how I like those, but the Google ads are necessary). And some of the commercial text links in the site are coded for affiliates. Viewing these ads, clicking on these ads and links, and sometimes even making a purchase after you have clicked, will help to generate commissions for Cyndi’s List. It costs you nothing, but it helps to support CL. After the last major upgrade of the site in 2011 I also added a PayPal Donate button. It took 5 years, but users of Cyndi’s List helped me pay for that upgrade in whole. You can shop using any of the affiliate links here:

How do you handle broken links?

Broken links are the biggest issue online. It is the nature of the Internet. Links will break on Cyndi’s List, on Google, and everywhere in between. I have some links from 1996 that still work, and I have links that are only a year old that have already become broken. Every time a web site is rearranged, the URLs get changed and links break. I spend at least half my time updating broken links, if not more. People can use the purple tab on the left side of the pages to Report a Broken Link to me. I will do my best to fix the link and will likely email you when I do. And often if you report one broken link to me it means that I will fix multiple other links that relate to that one. Sometimes I also find new links to add to the site while I’m busy locating a fix for the broken link. Overall, it is a win-win for everyone if you report just one broken link to me. I don’t know that a link is broken unless you report them to me or if I happen to click on one myself. I really appreciate any help you all give me by letting me know about them.

What has been the best thing from doing the website?

One of the best things ever is hearing of success stories because someone used Cyndi’s List. I love knowing that it has helped people in their research. I learned early on that Cyndi’s List helped people learn how to do research too. Browsing the categories gives them ideas for new research avenues to follow. It teaches them about new topics and methodology. Using the site helps them become better researchers. I’ve also been incredibly lucky that something I love to do has also served as my job and a way to earn an income from home as I raised my son and now care for my mother.

Is there anything else you’d like the world to know?

I’m incredibly proud of what I created. It started as a small way to help my local genealogical society and ended up as a massive way to help genealogists all around the world. I want the world to know that I’m still here and I’m still happy to help. Please submit a new link or report those broken links and we will keep plugging away together!

Why You Should Use Cyndi’s List: Have a Plan (Location)

Last time we went “shopping” at Cyndi’s List with the topic of fur trading in mind. Let’s go about this a different way. My ancestors did not stay in one place forever. Eventually as you research, you will find that they came from somewhere. Once you figure out where that somewhere was, you’ll eventually encounter a place you know very little about. Let’s go to Cyndi’s List with a place in mind.

When you scroll through the categories on Cyndi’s list you will find places among the list. Here are a few screen captures of some of them:

Screen captures of some of the locations in the category list.

So, if you are looking for a particular state in the United States, you will find it under “U” fur “United States.” There’s also many other countries in the list, for example “United Kingdom & Ireland,” “Germany / Deutschland,” “Sweden/Sverige,” and “Switzerland/Suisse/Schweiz” just to name a few. When you encounter a new location in your research, head over to Cyndi’s List categories to find that location and see what you can learn.

I recently had some new work in Mexico. I have a very small amount of experience in Mexican records, primarily those that are near the Texas border. I wanted to know more and find resources that I probably didn’t know existed, so I headed over to Cyndi’s List.

Mexico Category on Cyndi’s List

If you look at the Birth, Marriage, Death category, you will find that Cyndi has links directly to databases at Ancestry, FamilySearch, and other major websites. But there will also be other links in there as well. For this example, let’s look at the Newspapers sub-category.

A look at the Newspapers sub-category.

From looking at this subcategory I found a wonderful collection of digital newspapers at the National Digital Library of Mexico.

National Digital Library of Mexico, showing a digitized newspaper

Let’s look at another place example. I have a lot of my personal research that is in northwestern Ohio, primarily Wood, Hancock, Lucas, and other counties in the area. Under each state there is a sub-category for Counties:

Subcategories for Ohio
Counties list for Ohio

Let’s take a look at Hancock County.

Hancock County, Ohio sub-categories on Cyndi’s List

You may notice that the subcategories are very similar if not the same across multiple categories. Let’s look at the Libraries, Archives & Museums category:

Libraries, Archives & Museums Category for Hancock County, Ohio on Cyndi’s List

I have been to the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library. My dad used to live in Findlay for many years. His mother’s maternal side, the Urbans, were from Findlay. So I’ve visited that library many times to do research. However, I have never visited neither the Kaubisch Memorial Library nor the McComb Public Library and will have to do so on a future visit. I honestly did not know they existed and do not know if they might have additional information than I have been able to obtain from Findlay. If it weren’t for Cyndi’s List, I may have never known to look there.

So, think of the locations you are researching. It is very possible if not likely that Cyndi’s List has some hidden gems waiting for you in those categories and sub-categories. Go take a look.

Why You Should Use Cyndi’s List: Have a Plan (Topic)

First of all, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Cyndi! Next… let’s continue the series.

Let’s look at using Cyndi’s List with a plan. The analogy: you walk into Costco with your shopping list. Let’s say you have some topics in mind. Perhaps you are just starting to work in a new state or country and you know very little about that area. Or you just discovered that an ancestor was involved in an event or activity you don’t know much about. In these scenarios, using Cyndi’s List is a good way to learn what is out there that is genealogically-related.

Let’s say you learned that an ancestor was a fur trader and may have been involved in the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). Let’s see what we can find about fur trading and HBC on Cyndi’s List. Let’s head to the categories page:

Categories on Cyndi’s List

Scrolling down the page looking for a fur trade category:

Find a category for fur traders on Cyndi’s List

We can see from the link that there are 63 links in this category and it was last updated on 29 June 2022.

Fur Traders, Trappers, Voyageurs, Mountain Men & Explorers category on Cyndi’s List

You can see the sub-categories above. Let’s take a look at General Resources.

General Resources in the Fur Trader category on Cyndi’s List

There are several links to Geni for these topics, a link to the Museum in Chadron, Nebraska, several Wikipedia pages to give you general information on the topic. I clicked on the “History of the Fur Trade – White Oak Society” and found a broken link. Let’s ask again as I did last time…should I despair? NO! Click on the “Report a Broken Link” button on the left and help Cyndi out! I found the new URL for that page and reported it to Cyndi using the button on the page.

The new location of the History of the Fur Trade – White Oak Historical Society

Let’s take a look at some Hudson’s Bay Company specific links.

Hudson’s Bay Company sub-category

As a demonstration, let’s look at the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives (HBCA).

HBCA Biographical Sheets

The HBCA has biographical sheets on employees. How cool is that? Let’s look at George Adams (1815-1823).

Employee biographical sheet for George Adams at the HBCA website.

You can see that you get information about George Adams regarding his employment with the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Now, that was an example regarding fur traders. What other topics are there are on Cyndi’s List? The answer is many. AND you are not going to find that all of the links work. PLEASE report them and if you can find a new one, let Cyndi know. Next time we will do a similar exercise but with a location or two in mind.

Why You Should Use Cyndi’s List: You don’t know what you don’t know

There’s two ways you can use Cyndi’s List (ok, maybe there’s more than two, but I’m going to demonstrate two in the next couple of posts). This week let’s talk about how you can use Cyndi’s List if you don’t have a plan, or a Costco shopping list if we stick with that metaphor.

When you walk into the big warehouse store with no list, what do you do? You start walking up and down the aisles and see the items with no plan. This is a fine way to do things on Cyndi’s list and a very viable way to learn about what you don’t know. Let’s walk down the “aisles” of Cyndi’s List.

To find the “aisles,” go to the Categories tab at the top of the screen, or the first purple button on the left:

Showing the Categories tab and button on Cyndi’s List

What you will first see is probably an ad. Remember from last post, all you have to do is click the close button to move on. (Also remember that this is a completely free resource and Cyndi funds it through ads and donations. Running a website of this size is not cheap.)

Once you’ve found the “aisles” (the categories), you can start browsing. Along the top is an alphabet so you can jump to that letter in the categories list. Or you can just scroll down the page to see what you find. Again, you don’t know what you don’t know. So this kind of browsing reveals some of those things to you.

Alphabet across the top to jump to a topic or scroll the categories.

You can see from the list above, it is two columns. and from these you can see some of the categories: “Acadian, Cajun & Creole,” “Adoption,” “Africa,” “African-American,” etc. There is a number in parentheses after the title of the category that indicates how many links are in each. So, Adoption, for example, has 195 links in the category at the time of this blog post. Below each category, there is a date that the category was last updated So, adoption was updated in May of this year, whereas, Novelties & Gifts (on the right hand column) has not been updated since November 2020. As I said last time, Cyndi’s List is a one-woman operation. She fixes broken links nearly every day (I asked).

Let’s look at the African-American category. It was last updated very recently, on 12 August 2022. It contains 916 links. When you click on the African-American category, you will find all of the subcategories and related topics.

African-American category on Cyndi’s List

The sub-categories in each is listed in alphabetical order. She is constantly working on these categories and massaging them to keep them updated. Some of the sub-categories in this section include: “Birth, Marriage, Death,” “Blogs, Podcasts, and Video,” “Cemeteries & Funeral Homes,” “Freedmens’ Bureau,” “Laws & Statutes,” “Occupations,” “Slavery,” “Social Networking,” “Societies & Groups,” and “Wills & Probate,” to name several (but not all).

Let’s look at the “Birth, Marriage, Death” category.

Birth, Marriage, Death sub-category

There is a link count at the top that tells you that there are 14 links in this sub-category. Each recently added link gets a “New!” icon so you can see some of the newest resources added.

As I was browsing the items in this category, I found that the first link, that to an article by Ruby Coleman at American Ancestors, is broken. It points to this:

Broken link at American Ancestors

Should you immediately think “Aw, Cyndi’s List is so out of date. All of these broken links makes the site unusable!”? NO! The answer is no. And in case you tend to do that, please don’t. And here’s why. If there is an item on Cyndi’s List that you really want to see, that means it exists somewhere. And do you know who can and will help you find it (especially if you are polite and patient, and maybe send brownies)? Cyndi. She is a WHIZ at finding things that have moved online. So there is at least one thing you should do next when you encounter this: Report a Broken Link!

Reporting a Broken Link
Click on the broken link graphic next to the link you’re reporting.
Report a broken link page at Cyndi’s List

Ok, so the above is the page you get when you report a broken link. At minimum, put your email address in there. If Cyndi finds a replacement link, she will let you know. She will! It’s happened to me! Seriously. She tries to help everyone and keep the site up-to-date. IF you can find the new home of that broken item, let her know. It will save her a bit of time. I did a quick search for that article at AmericanAncestors and didn’t find it (to be fair, I didn’t put a ton of time into it). So I just submitted it without comment. At some point, when Cyndi finds where they put it, she’ll send me an email telling me that the link has been updated.

So, that was us walking up and down the African-American aisle of Cyndi’s List. There are 229 categories (aisles) at Cyndi’s List. Get walking! We will discuss “shopping” at Cyndi’s List WITH a plan (shopping list) next time.

Why You Should Use Cyndi’s List: It’s a Massive Resource

After the first post in this series, it made its way around Facebook on various walls and pages. In many of them someone invariably commented that they become overwhelmed trying to use the site because it is so huge. That is one of the number one things Cyndi says she hears as well in her 26+ years of running the site.

I want to ask those of you who feel overwhelmed by Cyndi’s List, how you deal with walking into a library or a big warehouse store or utilize Wikipedia? Generally we start with a plan of some kind. I mean we CAN go to a library or Costco or Wikipedia and just browse (I do love to see what new things are at Costco and there is the featured article at Wikipedia). Usually, we show up to Costco with a shopping list, we show up to the library with some topics in mind, and we should do the same with Cyndi’s List.

Just like at Costco, you cannot be totally sure about what you’ll find on the shelf. You can’t know for sure what you will find at Cyndi’s List. She is trying to curate the ever-changing world that is the internet. Websites come and go, or they change their URLs for whatever reason. Cyndi (or her minions) find new sites to add. Because of this, the site is itself ever-changing. And just like Costco that stops carrying my favorite frozen pizza, Cyndi’s list will have broken links or links that get removed because the website no longer exists.

The other thing both Cyndi and I see are folks saying in comments on posts, “there are too many broken links” and that makes the whole site somehow unusable. I want everyone to know that the entire site is run by one woman. Cyndi does all of the site maintenance manually and all by herself. She depends on users to report broken links. If you report a broken link, she will try to track that site down and find a new link, if the site simply moved, or find a link to it in the Wayback Machine if it exists.

Reporting Links Buttons


Sorry for yelling, but it is quite easy to do and it does bother me when people complain about broken links but don’t report them. Be a pal and help out. Seriously. Cyndi will try to find a replacement for you. What other website does that?

Keep in mind that Cyndi maintains this massive resource at no charge to anyone in the community. There are no subscription fees despite some jokes that go around about having “lifetime subscriptions” to Cyndi’s List. She earns the money to keep it all going through the ads on the page. So maybe click on one once in a while. Use her Amazon link to do your usual shopping. And she also has a donation button if you’d just rather show your appreciation in the form of cold, hard cash.

Speaking of the ads, they will pop up on your screen and you have to click “close” to get them to let you continue.

An example of an ad from Cyndi’s List. Just click “close” to continue.

So thinking about how you handle other “overwhelming” situations, use those methods to use Cyndi’s List. Next time we will start digging into the specifics about formulating a plan on how to use Cyndi’s List.

Why you should use Cyndi’s List: Overview

I’ve been working with my friend and colleague Cyndi Ingle now for quite some time. We’ve been teaching study groups and institute classes together now for several years. We’ve been friends for a while and would meet up at Salt Lake City every January for SLIG (Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy) and Family History Library (FHL) research time. A group of friends would get rooms at the Plaza (I usually stay at the Kimball) and we’d all meet up at the library for a raucous time. (Sounds like an oxymoron, a raucous time in the library, but if you’ve had the pleasure/displeasure of being around our table during those times, you know what I mean.) How can you stop a bunch of friends who live far away from each other from having a good time doing what we love? Well… a pandemic can do it.

Here’s Cyndi at the FHL in 2018 being witty and showing a group of us something exciting on her computer.

In January 2020, Cyndi and I decided to be accountability buddies. I’d already started my study groups on Zoom, but had some goals to grow my business and work on my research and she had very similar goals. So…me being in Texas at the time and she living in Washington, we decided to have a weekly Zoom accountability meeting. My family and I had also made plans to visit Cyndi in the Seattle area during our Spring Break in … March 2020. Needless to say, all of the travel plans fell apart. But our accountability sessions did not. We have been fantastic partners in helping each other through stressful times in addition to the accountability. Some of our goals changed drastically through the pandemic. I ended up being hired by Ancestry ProGenealogists, and so I no longer take private clients, for example. So my professional goals changed. Many weeks we felt like we were just keeping our heads above water due to the stress of the pandemic and many social/political/natural disasters that were happening.

Through it all, I have learned so much more than I knew before these meetings with Cyndi, about Cyndi’s List and what it can do for your research. I think many of us forget about Cyndi’s list because we can “Google it” or “find it on Ancestry.” But Cyndi is a one-woman-indexing machine. She has curated millions (billions? ok maybe not THAT many) of links over the years (26+ years) that are genealogically relevant and has them categorized according to the way many genealogists might look for them. The thing I think is most helpful about Cyndi’s list is that you don’t know you need something or that something exists until you go browse the categories, topics, and links on the site. So I ask you, if you didn’t know about it, how are you going to Google for it?

This next series of posts is going to walk you through Cyndi’s List from a user perspective. I’ll discuss how to use it, how to help Cyndi keep it up-to-date, how to search for things on it (because it is massive), and I’ll share specific examples of ways I use it for my own research to provide you with context and real examples. I’m also trying to talk Cyndi in to writing a guest post so she can share some of her own perspective and feedback to you all.

So, get prepared. We are going to have some fun over the next several weeks!

Mastering Genealogical Documentation Study Group Now Forming!

The Mastering Genealogical Documentation Study Group is back! Registration is now open!

Mastering Genealogical Documentation, a Seven-Week Beginning Principles Course, lead by Cyndi Ingle of Cyndi’s List. (Cari is on a hiatus this time around.) The course runs from August 3, 2022 through September 21, 2022 – 7 weeks, plus an optional 8th week to review optional homework. The fee is US$75.00. You must own a copy of Mastering Genealogical Documentation, available through NGS.

There will be three different sessions to choose from:

  1. Wednesday daytime at Noon Pacific/3pm Eastern (Register Here)
  2. Wednesday evening at 4pm Pacific/7pm Eastern (Register Here)
  3. Thursday daytime at 1pm Pacific/4pm Eastern (Register Here)

Each class will be about an hour and a half, but sometimes may go over that if the discussion requires it. This is for those who have never studied this book before. We will be studying this from a beginner or slightly intermediate level. It is recommended that you have studied the book Mastering Genealogical Proof, but not a requirement for taking this class. If you’ve done one of these groups before and want a refresher, that’s ok too! I will take 25 students in each class.

Study group details are here.

Maps: Visualizing Your Ancestors -Rectangular Survey

Last time we talked about the metes and bounds survey system that was used in the eastern states (colonies prior to our nation’s creation). This time let’s look at the survey system used the the rest of the United States, in the public lands states, called the “rectangular survey system.”

This survey is based on a grid system using a series of baselines and meridians across the U.S.

USGS BLM Map of Baselines and Meridians

If you ever learned about how to find a point on a grid in math class you, learned that (2, -5) meant that you go right 2 points on the X axis, and down 3 points on the Y axis.

Grid system from math class.

The rectangular survey works the same, except that we use the cardinal directions instead of positives and negatives, and the directions are referred to as townships and ranges such that a square from the grid is called “township 2 south, range 3 west.’ Each of these township/ranges is 36 square miles.

Example showing the location of township 2 south, range 3 west

But wait, there’s more…

Inside each one of those township and ranges, the land is further subdivided into 36 1-square mile sections, numbered 1-36. AND THEN, each one of those 1 square mile sections is further divided into “aliquots.” Those smallest sections are divided into halves or quarters depending on how many acres someone received.

The rectangular system divisions.

So, when you find a land description for a rectangular survey system piece of land, it will read like this: N 1/2, SW 1/4, of section 14 in township 2 s, range 3 w (or north half of the southwest quarter of section 14 in township 2 south, range 3 west). The land description might also mention the principle meridian though not always. From context of where the land is located, you can often figure it out without naming the meridian (refer to the first map in this post).

It is because of this grid system of surveying that this is the view out your airplane window when you fly over the midwest:

Photo by author.