Vermilion pioneers' descendants honor them with new tombstone

Vermilion pioneers' descendants honor them with new tombstone

Around 1831, Daniel and Anna Henthorn Kyger left their home in Ohio and headed west before putting down roots in McKendree Township in southeastern Vermilion County.

"They weren't the first pioneer family in the county, but they were one of the earliest," said Nancy Michael, a descendant who lives in Georgetown, several miles from where her ancestors lived and farmed.

Daniel died in 1849 around age 87, and Anna died in 1859 around age 79. They were buried in McKendree Cemetery, near what's long been the Forest Glen Preserve.

Today, their old limestone headstones are broken and covered with black mold.

On Sunday, the couple's descendants will gather for their annual Kyger family reunion — and dedicate a new tombstone, marking their final resting place.

"We decided since they were the first ones out here and our families stemmed from them, we needed to put something more permanent there," said Frank Kyger, another descendant.

"We want to mark this place, so we and future generations will know where their family is and where they came from."

The reunion is at the Maple Grove Lodge at Forest Glen. A brief dedication ceremony will be held before a potluck dinner, which starts at 1 p.m.

All Kyger family descendants are invited to attend.

Daniel, who is of German ancestry, was born in Virginia, and Anna was born in Pennsylvania. They had seven sons and six daughters.

"They lived in Virginia, then West Virginia before moving to the northeastern corner of Ohio. Around 1830 or 1831, we see land being sold," said Frank, 80, of Chatham, whose fourth great-grandfather was William Kyger. Frank was also a descendant of Henry Kyger.

"Some came in covered wagons pulled by oxen. Some came down the Ohio River. They took ropes and pulled themselves up the Wabash" River, added Michael, 71, of Georgetown, whose fifth great-grandfather was John Kyger, the couple's third child and oldest son.

"They loved the farmland of Vermilion County, so they settled there," Michael continued, adding some of the family's land was donated to the Vermilion County Conservation District for the forest preserve.

* * *

While the patriarch and matriarch settled in what would be called McKendree Community, some of their children and their families lived a short distance away in Grape Creek in Danville Township, said Michael, who has studied her family's genealogy for nearly 40 years.

In 1835, Williams Sheet, husband of the Kygers' daughter, Eliza, and Thomas Morgan, husband of daughter Brooky, built a grist mill on the bank of the Vermilion River near Grape Creek. They later built a saw mill and distillery.

In 1860, three of John's sons — Daniel, Tilmon and Henry T. Kyger — bought the mill and later built a gravel pit, cooperage for making barrels to ship flour and an oxen team. Tilmon, a Union captain in the Civil War, later became a lawyer. But the family continued to run the mill — which drew people from a 40-mile radius — until 1901, when the mill, weakened by age, fell into the river from its own weight.

Michael said her ancestors were Methodist. After another settler donated land for a church, Daniel and other family members helped build McKendree Church, which stood next to the cemetery.

"It was started around 1840. It burned down twice. They rebuilt it," she said.

When people left the rural area for jobs in town, Michael said the congregation dwindled and finally closed. Eventually, kids vandalized the building.

"So they tore it down. The only thing you see now is the cemetery," she said, adding some of the people buried there never had a headstone. "And a lot of them are broken."

That's what happened to the thin slabs of limestone that mark Daniel and Anna's graves. Frank believes they became weathered over time and broke due to their age. Michael suspects they were also vandalized.

"Frank really pushed and worked hard to get the new stone," Michael said.

Frank — who grew up across the state line in Horseshoe, Ind., and lived in Georgetown before moving to Chatham — said he and other relatives also started researching their family tree and traveling to various cemeteries at some point.

"When we saw Daniel and Anna's tombstones, we noticed they were decaying. You can still read the names, but you can see where the foundation was broken," Frank said.

The new granite stone will have Daniel and Anna's names and birth and death dates etched on the front, and the names of all of their children on the back. And their old markers will be placed on either side of the new one.

"We have wanted to do this for a while, and this was kind of the year," Frank continued, adding the dedication will be extra special for him and his sisters because it happens to fall on the birthday of their late father, Russell Kyger.

* * *

From the couple came many descendants, who are spread throughout Illinois, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, California and Washington state. Some of their family names: Adams, Arrasmith, Black, Bolin, Coil, Hawn, Henk, Jenkins, Johnson, Jones, Kirkpatrick, Lusader, Lynch, Madden, Maggard, Morgan, Ritter, Shaw, Sheets, Shields, Sollars, Sprouls, Trosper, Underwood, Walton and Williams.

"I would say we're in the thousands," said Michael, who made books for each of the 13 children and recorded their descendants' names "right up to the present."

She added that the first two generations of Brooky's family alone probably had close to 100 members. She had eight children before dying during childbirth. While her four daughters died young, her sons lived to adulthood.

"One son had 13 children, and one of those children had 17 children," Michael said. "You can imagine how many descendants from just that one family are out there ... and they're still being born."

Michael has tracked down distant relatives throughout the country.

"I found one in Pennsylvania," she said. "He was 84. He drove all the way from Pennsylvania to Georgetown to bring me the family bible. There were all these tin-type photographs in there. I took them to Cunningham's (a now-closed photo shop in Danville) and had them make copies.

"I found another one who was 104 and living in a nursing home. She was highly intelligent, but she slept a lot and her hearing was gone. I took a dry erase board and wrote questions on it, and she would read them. ... Today, communication has changed. So many people have people calling them, trying to get information. You don't know who to trust now."

She and Frank said family reunions have also changed. Theirs used to draw 100-plus people, but now only 50 to 60 attend.

"People don't have time for reunions like they used to," Michael said.

However, they're hoping that more people show up for this special one.

"We have one couple from Springfield, Mo., coming," Frank said. "We just found them about three years ago," he said. "We've been going to their reunions, and they've been coming to ours."

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