Through the wringer

In sorting out a DNA match recently, I uncovered a rather puzzling family story. On 23andme, my father’s closest “stranger match” was a person I will call “J.O.H.” She and my father shared 0.83% DNA along 5 DNA segments, for a total of 62 centimorgans, with a predicted kinship of third cousins. The only people my father had more DNA in common with were myself, my daughter, and one known second cousin once removed though his paternal grandfather. Another known second cousin once removed, also through my father’s paternal grandfather, had less DNA in common with my father than my father had with J.O.H. Both of these known cousins were not related to this stranger match, leading me to conclude this match should be through my father’s paternal grandmother [from Massachusetts], or through my father’s mother [from Pennsylvania].

J.O.H. had enough surnames on her profile to determine her ancestry. She was from the West Coast, and her grandparents were from Nebraska, Idaho, and Iowa; a few of her great-grandparents were born in Ohio. None of the surnames at this point were in common with my father, and the geography was not matching either. One of my father’s great-grandmothers was born in Ohio, but her parents were from Maryland and the family as I had traced them had not really lived there that long. I largely gave up on this match for a while.

Where I had been stuck somewhat was regarding J.O.H.’s maternal grandfather. I had found him in the 1940 census in Davenport, Iowa, the son of Frank and Marie Turner, who were both born in Ohio. Searching an online family tree, I found something that was quite surprising. This listed Frank Turner’s original surname as True and his parents as John and Mary (Laubenthal) True of Fostoria, Ohio, with an interesting detail regarding Frank’s marriage to “Georgia Marie Johnson.”

Wow! This did check out when looking at the records in Ohio and Iowa, and Frank’s father was indeed a Mr. John A. True. However, this did not necessarily solve the problem of how J.O.H. and my father were related, as my father did not have the surname True in his ancestry either. However, in seeing the names of Frank’s parents, I did recognize them, and this immediately solved a genealogical mystery and opened up a few new ones. This “John A. True” of Fostoria was also known in my family as “John A. Through,” and he was my father’s great-great-grandfather!

[Seeing] the names of Frank’s parents, I did recognize them, and this immediately solved a genealogical mystery and opened up a few new ones.

My father’s great-grandmother, whom I mentioned above, was Mary Rosella Through, born in Findlay, Hancock County, Ohio in 1858. Her parents were Maryland natives John A. Through and Annie Sampson, who married in Baltimore County, Maryland in 1854. John and Annie had a daughter in Maryland, and then Mary and two other children in Ohio, the youngest born in 1864. However by 1866, Annie had gotten married again to William Brown, by whom she had a son named William born that year back in her native Baltimore. By 1880 Annie and her “Through” children were living in Philadelphia where they lived for several decades.

What happened to John A. Through was something of a mystery. I wasn’t truly sure if he died or if he and Annie had gotten divorced. In Hancock County in 1867 I had found a marriage record of a John Through and Elizabeth Burkholder. Then, in the 1870 census, still in Findlay, I had found John and Mary Through, ages 28 and 23, with John listing his birthplace as Maryland, as my John had when listed in Findlay in 1860. Then later in 1870 in Seneca County, Ohio birth records, was the birth of a John Through, son of John and Mary (Labenbaugh) Through.

This was where my trail on John had gone cold. I could not find anything about him after that. Mary Rosella Through and her husband Herbert Heath Helman (my great-great-grandfather), had divorced in 1913, and when she married again in 1916, she listed her father John A. Through as deceased.

This was where my trail on John had gone cold.

Yet, thanks to this DNA match, it’s quite clear that “John A. Through” and “John A. True” are one and the same! He’s married to the same “Mary Laubenthal/Labanbaugh,” someone I had speculated was a later wife. John and Mary, besides their son John (who also is called John A. True later on), had three more sons, Charles Edward True (1873–1953), George S. True (1876–1947), and Frank Jennings True alias Turner, mentioned above. I’m not entirely sure when the change from Through to True happened, but for whatever reasons, John spelled his surname Through up until 1870, and then True by 1880.[1] He had not really traveled that far from where I last had him; Findlay and Fostoria are only fourteen miles apart!

All of John’s children by his first marriage consistently spell their surname Through, and all of his children by his marriage to Mary Laubenthal spell it True (except when they change it too!). John A. Through alias True had two sons named John – John Roland Through (1861–after 1940) and John Adam True (1870–1935), who both lived at certain points in Pennsylvania (although the elder lived in Philadelphia, while the younger lived closer to Pittsburgh). Did these half-siblings know each other, or any of the children by John’s two families? I don’t know.

This makes my father and J.O.H. “half-third cousins” as they share the same great-great-grandfather, but “through” different wives. I should also point out, that of surnames to have in my family when doing online searches, “Through” has been one of the of the most painful, as so many additional results are found because of the word through. Now that I have this extra surname True, it’s not getting any easier.

Years ago, I worked with a Through researcher, and we speculated that John A. Through was the son of Samuel Through (ca. 1789–1846), a War of 1812 veteran from York County, Pennsylvania, by his second wife Catherine Sechrist. We had no real proof for this parentage; rather it was an educated guess based on time and geography and the relative uncommonness of this surname. Samuel and Catherine were also possibly the parents of a Catherine Jane Through who married Dennis Rosier and lived in Baltimore. However, now knowing the later life of my “John A. True,” his 1912 Ohio death certificate lists his parents as “Archie True” and “Mary Rozier” – and I cannot find any indication that this couple ever existed! At this point, I know much more about John after 1870, but so much less than what I had speculated about him before his first marriage in 1854.

As I have two young daughters who enjoy watching Scooby Doo, I now have the following song stuck in my head:

John A. Through or True, where are you?

We’ve got some work to do now!


[1] See William Lang, History of Seneca County … (Springfield, Ohio, 1880), 567, where John True is listed as an officer of Fostoria Lodge Number 86. Also in the Federal Census that same year in Fostoria, John’s family is listed with the surname Shaw.

Christopher C. Child

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.View all posts by Christopher C. Child