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.

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.

24 thoughts on “Through the wringer

  1. Chris, How can you go wrong with Scooby Doo? What a cool story and an awesome post. I know what you mean about too many search results on a last name. With a surname comporting to “record” – I get everything from “pensions to Elvis Presley.”

    1. Thanks Jeff! Yes I can only imagine with the surname Record what you get. Years back when newspapers database automatically searched my ancestry for hits, the “Through” and “Child” matches were too much that I had to do it again while removing those ancestors from consideration!

  2. seems like you were born into it. With a surname of Child, I have been racked with records of “child” and newspaper clippings peppered with the word. I know your “true” agony on the lengthening search for lost ancestors. In my start to find my great grandmother Leafa Childs, I thought it would be an easy find. But, alas, I am still searching to find her father in Vermont or Sand Lake, NY.

  3. Aren’t names fun? I am researching my g-g-grandmother “Relief Bates Roberts” – and locating lots on “tax relief”, “poor relief”… What a relief it will be when I find her birth!!

  4. Just last week I found the answer for a family member that had an alias. Seems he didn’t find out until in he was his 30’s that the man that raised him was not his father. He changed his name to his “true name”. Lucky for us he had enlisted in Civil War under the first name and then went to the trouble to change the records for his pension. No wonder I couldn’t originally find him after 1865.
    I am also having fun researching the “Best” family.

  5. My maiden name is Young.. I know what you mean about trying to search the name and getting all kinds of other results… especially young man or young people.

    1. One grandmother’s maiden name was Arthur; the other was Poor. Fun searching 😉

      I’ve also done research for a friend whose great grandfather was named Dayton ~ that’s also been a bit of a challenge, as it’s a common family name to go with it.

  6. Maybe the Through / True difference comes from the pronunciation of Through. Without articulating the h, it sounds exactly like True.

    1. And then again, perhaps, and I think in many cases, the census taker (and others) were not educated and just spelled it as they heard it.

      1. Thanks, the similarity in pronunciation may have been part of the motives, but the spelling is clearly spelled the two different ways in several records. It’s always spelled Through by John up to 1870, and by John’s “first family” when they move on to Philadelphia, in census, birth, marriage, death, city directory, and newspaper records; and then spelled True after 1880 by John’s second family in all of those records, along with masonic, draft registration, probate, and land records. The only exceptions being when the families are using a completely different surname, those being “John Shaw” in the 1880 census in Fostoria, Anne (Sampson) (Through) Brown in the 1870 and 1880 censuses (in Baltimore & Philadelphia respectively) list her children by her first marriage with “Brown” surname, and then when Frank True changes his name to Frank Turner.

  7. Reference Gene Hullinghorst’s comment on the pronunciation of Through/True. In other similarly rooted languages (German and Spanish come to mind) the TH is pronounced T as in theater:Teatre/teatro so slipping from Through to True doesn’t seem such a reach. But what an amazing twist in the family search- congrats on working all that out.

  8. A German would pronounce the name “Through” as “True” (so agreeing with Gene in this thread). Could it be as simple as John Through moving from a predominantly German-speaking area to one that was more English-speaking, and therefore he modified the spelling to accommodate the “English”?

  9. If he was a member of a lodge, the masons have very good records of members, Christopher. One thing to do is identify a sibling of the ancestor and that may lead to stuff that can be concrete.

  10. A Michigan Throop told me that the name is pronounced Troop — an example of how Thr can morph to Tr.

  11. Isn’t it common in people with Irish accents, “tat dey woud speak th as “t”or “d”? My uncle’s grandfather was from old Ireland and I remember, as young as I was, his Irish brogue, still thick “tick” after many years in the US. I go for a German or Irish accent as a reason for the spelling. Gosh, I can just hear it. My name is John True…I would go back to Ireland or Germany or France and see what name Through may have derived from, and then see if there are passenger lists that may contain something helpful. If he still had a thick accent he probably didn’t even think twice about it. When his family came along, they may have wanted to make it more American or more consistent –spelling with pronunciation– and chose True… 50-50 tossup.

  12. Very interesting–my Dad just had a match at the second or third cousin level, and I can’t figure it out. My Dad’s ancestors all lived in New England, Quebec and way upstate New York for the last several generations, and this person’s ancestors as far as I have gone all lived in North and South Carolina. My only theory right now is that maybe my brick wall ancestor Calvin Luther Norton (1844-1888) engaged in some shenanigans while in the South during the Civil War. Using shared matches I know the connection is on my father’s father’s side.

  13. My ancestor went into the Civil War as a Kempton and came out as a Kimpton…inorder to keep his pay and his wife’s penson payments going they had to use Kimpton after that…all their children were called Kimpton.. But he was buried by the Govt witn a govt paid gravestone with Civil War mention as Kempton!!

  14. I have a 2nd-3rd cousin DNA match on Ancestry, also a stranger and none of our relatives match, hers are Italian, mine are Canadian French. I tried working out possible connections by looking at the location of our shared DNA matches, but that will take a lot of research. It’s interesting, and I wonder if I will find out any secrets along the way.

  15. Speaking of Scooby and mysterious DNA matches, I think I may have recently committed a “ruh ruh” when contacting a new DNA match, who is a fairly close cousin. It was obvious due to her hometown (where my grandmother went to high school) and her many matches to relatives I either know or who share my grandmother’s maiden name, which branch of my family she is related to. Her dad’s side of her family tree is pretty well filled out back to the early 1700s, so I wrote that we must be related through her mother, whose side wasn’t filled out at all. However, when I started working on that side of her tree, this hypothesis was disproven, since her mom was born in Indiana, and the family members she’s been matched to have all lived in Oregon or Illinois since arriving from Germany in 1868. Oops! I think her dad, whose tree is so splendidly filled out, was not really her dad.

  16. I also know what you mean about trying to research a name and getting all kinds of results. My great, great, great grandfather is William Doe. This surname can also cause other problems. A male Doe descendant whose surname today is Doe, told of the uncomfortable experience he had after being stopped by a policeman for speeding. The policeman thought he was being disrespectful and got angry until he saw his driver’s license.

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