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Good news, bad news

So The Legal Genealogist is off today to sunny Santa Rosa, California, for this weekend’s spring seminar of the Sonoma County Genealogical Society.

But before the plane boards (a bit delayed due to those flight crew rest rules), we need to revisit those inheritance tax records that came up earlier this week.1

OACThese are called the Collateral Inheritance Tax Records, and there’s some good news-bad news we need to go over.

The good news is that some of these have been digitized and are available online. The Sonoma County records for example, are in the collection entitled “California, Wills and Probate Records, 1850-1953” on What you’ll find there is four volumes: volumes 1-3, for the period 1906-1908, are with the Probate Court Minutes, Volumes 59-61, 1919-1920, starting at image 632 and going through to the end at image 893; while volume 4, 1906-1935, is in a separate set of some 65 images (including cover sheets).

The records for San Francisco are also online in the Ancestry collection: some 587 total images (including cover sheets) for the Collateral Inheritance Tax Receipt Books, 1893-1921, are online there.

The bad news is that not all of these records appear to have been digitized — or even microfilmed. It’s hard even to find out what records may still exist. I stumbled across the Sonoma County records getting ready for this weekend’s presentations, and only found the San Francisco records by searching for terms like “California collateral,” “California inheritance” and California tax in the FamilySearch catalog.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t similar records for other California counties. There are inheritance tax receipts for the County of Los Angeles; arranged chronologically, for the years 1909-1911, held by the Seaver Center for Western History Research a the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.3 Three volumes of inheritance tax receipts for 1906-1020 for Sacramento County are at the Center for Sacramento History.4

So what it really means is you may need to hunt for these records. One place to look, of course, any time you’re looking for California records is the California State Archives, but don’t overlook the Online Archive of California, with its catalog of contributing institutions from around the state.

It also means you may need a road trip or to hire someone to act as boots on the ground. And the possibly bad news when you find them is that not all of the record books are the same and not all provide the same level of information. The Sonoma County books on Ancestry, for example, distinguish neatly among beneficiaries, listing relationships. The San Francisco County books on Ancestry show who paid the tax and it was often the executor, administrator or attorney for the estate on behalf of the estate or the heirs — with the heirs not named.

But the good news is that records like those in Sonoma County do provide a wide array of information about a wide array of people, and not just the very wealthy folks like Teresa Wensinger, featured in the earlier blog posts. Just as some examples of the more ordinary folks you’ll find in the records:

• The 1906 estate tax for Sarah J. Jamison showed an estate worth just a bit more than $5,000, naming a sister Margaret Marshall and a brother Thomas J. Shields to receive $2500 each, and four grandchildren: Rachael and James Jamison and Rachel and James Bethel, to receive $10 each. The result: we pick up Sarah’s likely maiden name of Shields and the fact that she likely had at least one son (a Jamison to produce Jamison grandchildren) and one daughter who married a Bethel (to produce Bethel grandchildren).5

• Anna Jenkins’ entire estate was only worth $750, but her tax record named her husband John, sisters Sarah Rikert and Alice Thompson of Petaluma, Mary Dempsey of San Francisco, and Josephine Proctor of Occidental, and brothers William and Samuel Weeks of Santa Rosa. Again, we pick up that likely maiden name (Weeks) — and can put a likely maiden name to each of those married sisters.6

• Looking at the inheritance tax record for Joseph Dominiconi, we find that his father Giovani Dominiconi lived in Switzerland, and his sisters Rachel Dominiconi and Mary Sabini in Santa Rosa.7

• The 1906 tax form for Sarah Pierce named four nieces: Mary Numan of Oakland, Mary Lange of Oakland, Mary Gunn of Petaluma and James Pierce of San Francisco who I suspect was really a nephew. It noted specific bequests to those four with the remainder, share and share alike, to a bunch of McDowell nieces and nephews: Mary Ann, Margaret, Teresa, Kate, Sarah, Carrie, Charles, Alfred, George and Thomas. The whole estate wasn’t valued at even $3,500.8

• Mary Crose’s 1906 estate in Santa Rosa named a daughter Annie and son Albert, both of Santa Rosa, and two married daughters, Nellie Harris and Allie Gilbert of San Francisco. The total value of that estate — just $400.9

So the bad news is that these records are not going to be the easiest things to find for all parts of California. The good news is that they’re worth finding if they still exist, even if your family isn’t in the one percent bracket like the Wensingers were.


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “When the tax man cometh…,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 12 Apr 2016 ( : accessed 15 Apr 2016). Also, ibid., “Teresa’s story,” posted 13 Apr 2016.
  2. “California, Wills and Probate Records, 1850-1953,” database and images, ( : accessed 15 Apr 2016).
  3. Collection Guide, “Los Angeles County Government Records,” Online Archive of California ( : accessed 15 Apr 2016).
  4. Ibid., “For the Record : Catalog of the Public Records, City of Sacramento, Sacramento County 1848-1982.”
  5. Sonoma County, California, Collateral Inheritance Tax Record, Record 4101, Sarah J. Jamison (1906); “California, Wills and Probate Records, 1850-1953,” ( : accessed 11 Apr 2016).
  6. Ibid., Record 4105, Anna W. Jenkins (1906).
  7. Ibid., Record 4109, Joseph Dominiconi (1906).
  8. Ibid., Record 4118, Sarah Pierce (1906).
  9. Ibid., Record 4030, Teresa Wensinger (1906).
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