My grandfather, Cornelius Jay Vanover, born in September 1882 on the old Vanover farm near the mouth of George’s Fork Creek on Pound River, Va. During his life he was a farmer, and some say he was an herb doctor.
When the coal companies started their mines in western Virginia and eastern Kentucky, he got a job with them. He was badly hurt in a mine accident and they had to amputate his leg. He was fitted with a wooden leg, and he learned to walk with it very well.
He spent a lot of time at my parents’ home. He was not only my grandpa, we became the best friends in my early childhood.
He did not own a car and would walk all over Letcher and Wise counties. I remember walking with him through the mountains from Jenkins to Clintwood, Va., about 20 miles, and as a young boy I had a hard time keeping up with him.
He knew everyone in the mountains, and everyone was so friendly with him. They would invite us into their home for something to drink or eat at every place we came to.
At his age and not married at that time, the women took a fit over him.
If someone was not feeling well, he went into the woods and found an herb, fixed it for them, and would have them drink it and tell them they would soon feel better.
Years later, his leg started hurting him so badly he could hardly stand it. His leg was buried in the cemetery at Church House Hollow near Camden, and he asked his family to dig up his leg and see if something was wrong with it.
They dug it up and found a tree root had grown through the wooden box and had gone into his leg. They took the root out, put his leg into another wooden box, and reburied it.
My grandpa never had pain again.
When I went into the military at an early age and had many assignments all over most of the world, I saw very little of him and I felt so sorry about that. I loved him so much. We went everywhere together.
When he passed away, I was in another part of the world and when I found out I could not get home in time to be with him for the last time.
He had taught me a lot about the mountains. He was the greatest outdoors man I ever knew.
Recently I got a phone call from Allen Vanover, whom I knew of, but had never met. We had the same grandpa in Cornelius Jay Vanover. His dad, Elmer and mom, Helen, had left Wise County when he was a small boy and moved to Indiana.
Allen lives and works in Florida and was visiting his mom in Indiana, and saw a couple of my stories The Mountain Eagle had printed that I had sent his mother.
He said that he never knew of other Vanovers that his mom knew.
We now talk on the phone and exchange photos by mail. His mother was a good friend of mine who helped me put together the Vanover family tree, starting in 1972 when I retired from the military and wanted to know all about my ancestors.
I deeply regret, while growing up and all the years I was away from Letcher County, not having more interest in my ancestors. I could have written down so much of what I have been searching for over the past 40 years.
We all should be able to record fairly accurate accounts of our descendants for future generations yet to come.
My parents kept very little information on our ancestors. I have been told that, from my mother’s side of the family, the Shorts, that I have the blood of the Indian Princess Pocahontas in my veins.
I only wish that I had got more schooling, but I have learned a great deal over the years having been to all the places I’ve been, that one is never too old to learn.
You good people of Letcher County, don’t get in the fix I was in by not knowing some of my ancestors. Make sure you have records of special events concerning your families’ births, deaths and marriages recorded in the family Bible. Search old records, visit cemeteries, track down relatives.
Then pass this information on to your children so they can pass it on to theirs. The list will go on as long as time exists.