Search Notes


Personal Name

Personal Names

Personal names entered into the database are entered first by surname (last name) followed by forename (first name), (e.g., Smith, Joanna) and are searchable in the same manner. It is possible to search solely by surname or by the first few letters of the surname, although such a search will yield less exacting results.

Due to the lack of standardized spelling in the era when these documents were created, there are many variations in spelling for both surnames and forenames. Standard surnames and forenames have been established for entry into the database, although the spelling variation of surnames has been preserved. For example where a name appears as “Johana Smyth” in the document, it will appear in the name field as “Smith, Joanna (Smyth).”

While it is possible to search for specific surnames, using variant spellings, such as “Smeth,” “Smyth,” or “Smithe” for the standard surname “Smith,” it is recommended that the user employ the standard names established in the Thesaurus in order to achieve more accurate results. Please note when searching for forenames in the Thesaurus that English(E), French(F), and German(G) forenames are marked for forenames that may be standard in one language but variant in another. When necessary, forenames may be marked male(M) or female(Fe).

Attention should be paid to cross-references in the Thesaurus. In some cases surnames and standards may be listed in several documents differently, although referring to the same person (e.g., “Kelley” and “O’Kelley”). In other cases individuals may simply be known by multiple names or aliases (e.g., “Barnes” and “Wige”).


In many cases forenames were not noted on the document itself. In these situations, attempts were made to determine forenames from the series of related documents or published records. Where it was impossible to positively identify an individual forename, titles were assigned to the surname, the most common being “Mr.”, but others, such as “Dr.” and  “Widow,” as well as military titles, such as “Capt.,” “Gen.,” and “Col.,” are used. Where suffixes such as “Jr.,” “Sr.,” or “III” accompany the name in the document and serve to distinguish the individual, they are also included in the name field. 


The use of “Family,” (e.g., “Amirault Family”) has been employed when the document refers to several members of a specific family and the individual forenames were unknown. This has been particularly true in Volumes 23 and 24.

Native American Names

In the case of individual Native American names, the user should consult the Thesaurus to view the established standards and variant spellings. Be aware that Indian names during this period may appear in several different forms. For example, Indian names may appear as Christian forenames (e.g., Joshua), Indian names, (e.g., Ahaton), or a combination of the two (e.g., Comacho, Joseph). Descriptors, such as “Old,” “Great,” and “Little” may also accompany both Christian forenames (e.g., Abigail (Old)) and Indian names (e.g., Nasquamut (Old)).

Location / Geographic Location

While the bulk of the documents in the Massachusetts Archives Collection involve town and city names, the location field is searchable by a variety of additional geographic landmarks such as rivers, mountains, hills, plains, islands, capes, and bays, as well as counties and forts. These place names are not limited to the present-day boundaries of Massachusetts, but include locations throughout the colonial world, particularly those in present-day New England and New York.

Every effort has been made to list these geographic landmarks under their modern names, but in several cases it was impossible to identify the current name of the geographic location and the name has been recorded as it appears in the document. Also, town boundaries have often been altered over the years. In these cases both the names of the town as it existed at the time of the document and the name of the town as it exists today have been entered into the location field. Please consult Historical Data Relating to Counties, Cities and Towns in Massachusetts published in 1997 by the New England Historic Genealogical Society for changes in town names and borders. Please see the Thesaurus for a list of standard terms, name variants, and cross references for towns/cities and geographic landmarks.


Standard subject terms have been assigned to each document that accurately reflect the contents of that document. A full list of searchable, subject terms are available in the drop-down menu. The user must consult the Thesaurusin order to view the list of established subject terms with cross-references to related terms and occasional notes on usage.

For example, the user is unable to search for the term “Theft.” By consulting the Thesaurus the established term “Larceny” will be cross-referenced. Only those subject terms found in the drop-down list and Thesaurus are searchable within the Massachusetts Archives Database.

Native American Tribe Names

Native American tribe names also appear in the subject field. These include not only those tribes that resided within the present-day borders of Massachusetts, but also Indian tribes more frequently associated with other geographic locations in New England, New York, and Canada. Occasionally the same Indian tribe was given several different names, in which case a single name has been established as a standard. Also, confederations of Indians such as the “Five Nations” have been assigned standard terms. Users should consult the Thesaurusto locate established standards.