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… there are records

When Teresa Wensinger died in San Francisco, California, in December 1905, she left a substantial estate including property in Sonoma County.

Her real estate ultimately was valued at more than $190,000, and her personal property at more than $100,000.

But you won’t find those numbers in the will books or the probate minutes.

You could probably put the final tally together using the inventory of the estate… if you could find them, without a road trip to California.

But there’s an easier way.

An easier way that includes the exact names, addresses and precise relationships to the deceased of people to whom the estate was to be distributed.

Niece. Niece by marriage. Grand nephew. Brother. Husband’s grand nephew.

And the record of that easier way is already digitized and online.

The Legal Genealogist came across it last night poking around in the digitized records of Sonoma County in preparation for this weekend’s spring seminar of the Sonoma County Genealogical Society.

It’s called the Collateral Inheritance Tax Record, and the record of Teresa Wensinger’s estate in that record book is like one-stop shopping to produce a list of her closest kin and her estate value at the time of her death.1


From this one document, even if you couldn’t find anything else online sitting at your computer at 3 a.m. in your bunny slippers, you’d have a reasonably good picture of Teresa Wensinger.

You’d know, for example, that her maiden name very likely was O’Farrell. One of the beneficiaries of the estate was identified as a brother, George O’Farrell of Sonoma County.2

You’d know that she was almost undoubtedly a Catholic. Another of the beneficiaries of the estate was one Sister M. Ligouri O’Farrell of the Convent of Mercy3 and money was left to the Youths Directory in charge of Father Crowley, to the Children’s Day Home of the Sisters of the Holy Family, the Home for Old People of the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Hospital for Incurables of the Franciscan Sisters.4

You’d know that she probably got along well with her husband’s kin, and was close to them as well as to her own. She left a specific bequest to her husband’s grand nephew — equal in amount to what she left to her own nephew.5

So… why was such a document created?

Because California started taxing estates in 1893.6 As amended in 1903, the statutes did not tax inheritances by parents, spouses, children, adopted children and the spouses of children,7 and exempted bequests to certain charities.8

All of the property was supposed to be valued and assessed and “The Clerk of each Superior Court shall keep in the office of the Superior Court, as a public record, a book in which he shall enter the returns made by appraisers, the cash value of collateral inheritances, and taxes assessed thereon, and the amounts received in payment.”9

Now don’t get me wrong: this one document isn’t the end of the Wensinger story. You’d still want to get the will, and the clerk’s copy of the will is available online.10 You can put together the list of beneficiaries from that.

You’d still want the inventory and the court minutes and the whole probate packet, if still in existence.

But as a place to start?

Tax records are among the very best that exist.

Don’t overlook them.


  1. Sonoma County, California, Collateral Inheritance Tax Record, Book 2, Record 4030, Teresa Wensinger (1905-1906); “California, Wills and Probate Records, 1850-1953,” ( : accessed 11 Apr 2016).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Oscar Tully Shuck, The Collateral Inheritance Tax Acts of the State of California (San Francisco : p.p., 1903), 1; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 11 Apr 2016).
  7. Ibid., at 6.
  8. Ibid., at 5.
  9. Ibid., at 14.
  10. Sonoma County, Cal., Will Book I: 211, Will of Teresa Wensinger (1905); “California, Wills and Probate Records, 1850-1953,” ( : accessed 11 Apr 2016).
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