After more than 160 years, the white stone marker was so worn that the writing was barely legible.
Jane “Jennie” Sturgeon Forsyth had been buried in Franklin’s First Mount Pleasant Cemetery in 1856. She and her husband, James Forsyth, were one of the first pioneer families to settle in Hensley Township. Her gravesite is a piece of Johnson County history.
But on the face of Forsyth’s weathered tombstone, a shiny new adornment stands out. The crisp bronze medallion identifies her as a real daughter of a War of 1812 veteran.
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A gathering of Forsyth’s descendants, as well as representatives from the United States Daughters of 1812, unveiled the new plaque during a small ceremony on Oct. 21. Though the marker is a small accent to the gravestone, its an important way for the family to recognize the contribution it made to the history of the country.
“It is a great honor for our ancestors,” said Linda Miller, a descendant of Forsyth who helped organize the installation of the grave marker. “It’s a long process, but it’s wonderful to have it done.”
Forsyth was born in Jefferson County, Kentucky, in 1787. She moved to Johnson County after marrying James Forsyth, a farmer, in the 1820s.
She was the eldest daughter of Thomas Sturgeon Jr., who fought for the U.S. in the War of 1812, serving under Capt. Martin L. Hawkins in the Kentucky Infantry. Sturgeon Jr. also had taken part in the Revolutionary War, joining the cause against the British when he was just 15 years old.
Though there is no documentation to prove it, family lore says that Sturgeon Jr. is one of the young men included in the iconic painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, Miller said.
“To be related to such war heroes, it was really cool to show he continued on and served in 1812 when he was older. He was a very patriotic thing to do,” she said.
The Sturgeon family traces its roots in America back to 1730. The family has done extensive tracking of its history and maintains that heritage through the Sturgeon & Allied Families Association of North America.
Huge reunions of the family are conducted each year in significant locations such as Louisville, Kentucky; Erie County, Pennsylvania; and Plymouth, Indiana.
Miller is a descendant of Forsyth’s brother, James Sturgeon. Though she lives in Las Vegas, Miller came back to Indiana with other family members to attend the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race.
While back in Indianapolis, she tapped into her passion for history and genealogy on a trip to Crown Hill Cemetery. Historians at the cemetery were able to help her find the graves of three of her relatives.
That connection to the Sturgeon family led her to think about honoring Forsyth. She spoke to Lancaster about doing a marker, and that sparked a lengthy process.
“In order to get a grave marking, you have to contact the Daughters of 1812 national chair for grave marking, then send in the documentation that proves they were in the War of 1812,” she said.
The United States Daughters of 1812 is a national nonprofit organization founded in 1892 by descendants of those who served during the War of 1812. Members work to preserve documents and relics from the war, and educates people about the importance of the conflict in American history.
In addition, the group posthumously honors daughters of 1812 veterans throughout the country.
Miller is a member of the group’s Nevada chapter and is active in the organization’s national conferences. During different conferences, she witnessed national president Lynn Sculman do grave markings for veterans and their daughters, and wanted to do it for her own relatives.
“While I was in Washington D.C. for a conference three years ago, I had found the documentation on Thomas Sturgeon. I just kind of put it away but dug it out last year,” she said.
Early on in the process, Miller leaned heavily on the Johnson County Museum of History, which helped gather information about the Sturgeon family and the Forsyths. One 1896 newspaper from the Franklin Democrat helped connect Miller to the Sturgeon family and prove that she was related to them.
She uncovered the fact that Thomas Sturgeon Jr. was in the War of 1812, something that the Sturgeon family association had not known.
“The (Daughter of the American Revolution) didn’t believe that I was related to them, because I had no documentation to connect them,” Miller said. “The people at the museum found the newspaper that connected all the dots.”
Miller also was referred to Meredith-Clark Funeral Home in Morgantown to assist with the ceremony, because you need to partner with a monument company to handle the installation of the marker.
“We were both excited and honored to be included in the efforts recognizing Jennie Sturgeon Forsyth with the 1812 Real Daughter medallion,” said Suzanne Gordon, funeral director for Meredith-Clark. “Honoring loved ones is important to everyone at Meredith-Clark Funeral Home and being able to recognize Jennie as Daughter of the War of 1812 was truly a privilege.”
The funeral home worked with their partner monument company to set the plaque in the gravestone. They also arranged to have chairs, programs and a curtain for the unveiling during the ceremony.
On a warm autumn afternoon, a small group of people gathered at Forsyth’s grave to talk about her life, and what the honor means. The event was sponsored by the Philip Schoff Chapter of the United States Daughters of 1812, based in Indianapolis.
Ivan Lancaster, a Trafalgar resident, is the third great-grandson of Jennie Sturgeon Forsyth. He is a three-time president of the Sturgeon family association, and he spoke about the importance of this designation. He also laid irises — the symbolic flower of the Sturgeon family — at the gravesite.
“The family is grateful for cousin Linda Miller discovering that Thomas was also in the War of 1812,” he said.
Miller has arranged for a Daughter of 1812 marker on another of her relatives, Helen Herndon Sturgeon, who is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery.
She is also planning to host a workshop to get people interested and help them figure out how they can get markers for their own relatives.
“It’s something that you do to recognize your ancestors with, and there’s a lot of information out there that’s available,” she said.
National Society United States Daughters of 1812
What: A national organization founded in 1892 dedicated to preserving the history and relics of the War of 1812, and educating others about it.
Commemorating 1812 veterans: One of the activities of the organization is to recognize and memorialize those who served in the War of 1812, as well as their daughters.
How to get involved: To see if you have an 1812 ancestor, contact Lynn C. Keasling, the Indiana state president of the United States Daughters of 1812 at 812-738-6921 or email@example.com.