Below is a breakdown of the hierarchy of evidence as used to determine land ownership. This was taken from a well-respected book but in Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas (and no other state that I know of) there is no actual law that states this specifically.
I believe that this list was established from case law and whether it is “the law” or not, it is what most surveyors, lawyers, and judges use to determine property ownership. This list is in order of importance with the most important, Senior Rights, being first.
Brown’s* Hierarchy of Evidence
- Senior Rights – The formation of a parcel prior to another
- Writings – Deeds or other written forms of conveyance
- Intent of Conveyances – Written intent of transference
- Calls for surveys – Reference to surveys in written documents
- Monuments – Physical markers called for in written documents
- Natural – Streams, ridges, trees…
- Artificial – Fences, posts, iron pins, pipes…
- Record – Monuments called for that no longer exist but whose location is readily identifiable
- Measurements – Those that are called for on writings
- Direction – Bearings or angles
- Distance – Feet, meters, rods…
- Area – Acreage, square feet, hectare…
A primary conflict between surveyors occurs with the discrepancy in interpretations of numbers 2, 4, & 6 and number 5. Many surveyors believe that the distances called for on writings (#2) or done by another surveyor and documented (#4) supersede the monuments eluded to in #5. While other surveyors believe that these “measurements” called for in these writings are actually #6 and therefore, #5’s monuments supersede them.
Both arguments are not without merit and both have been upheld in various court cases. The argument for the former surveyor, we will call them mathematically inclined, is that it clearly states writings are more important than monuments.
The argument for the latter surveyor, we will call them legally inclined (or fence line surveyors), is that monuments are something tangible that the lay person can see and understand. Anyone can comprehend and visualize that they own to the top of the ridge or to the center of a creek. Reading a legal description or accurately measuring is often beyond their means.
Because of these issues and the fact that no person will measure the same thing exactly the same way, a battle of experts can ensue.
* Brown, Curtis M, Walter G Robillard, and Donald A Wilson. 1981. Evidence and Procedures for Boundary Location 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.