Seeing Ourselves in Old Photos


Chatter, Tipper, Chitter

Over the weekend we got to go on an outdoor trip with good friends. I’ll share more on the actual outing with you later on.

I had been to the area once before and felt a real kinship with the land, but did not know I have a direct family connection to the place. And when I say direct connection, I’m actually talking about a tie that’s generations old.

For the last few weeks I’ve been studying on how we can look into a photo of an ancestor, even one we never knew, yet see something that reminds us of our selves or a close relative. Maybe it’s the shape of the eyes or the tilt of the chin.

Since I started the Celebrating Appalachia YouTube channel I’ve had the opportunity to study my own face more than most folks. Often when I’m editing a video I’ll see a look come across my face that is so much like Pap I’m left startled for a few seconds.

A week or so ago someone commented on the “I Am From Canning Jars” video to ask who the lady at a certain point was because she looked so much like Chitter. It was a photo of Granny when she was young.

Once I looked closer at the photo, which I’ve seen my entire life, I realized how much she looked like Chitter right down to the way she was holding her head and her eyes.

Somewhere we have a photo of one of The Deer Hunter’s ancestors. He looks strikingly like The Deer Hunter—you’d easily be able to convince someone that The Deer Hunter had dressed up at one of those old timey photo sets you often find in amusement parks.

Thankfully the good looks of the ancestor is all The Deer Hunter inherited, his life ended in a very tragic manner.

As I studied on that fact I became fascinated by how we can inherit the looks but not the person’s intent. And of course it can work the other way as well when we inherit the person’s mannerisms and ways but not one shred of the outward appearance.

I’ve always thought The Deer Hunter looked like Miss Cindy, but boy when he gets mad and draws his brow down tight it’s like looking straight at Papaw Tony 🙂

A couple of ways we describe looking like one of our ancestors, past or present, in Appalachia:

Chitter sure does favor her Pap.

My niece April looks a sight like Granny (and me).

Chatter is the spittin image of Miss Cindy.

It’s easy to see how noses, eyes, hair color, and face shapes are passed down from one family member to another. A little harder to see, but still fairly obvious are personality traits.

After realizing I had a direct connection to the place we visited over the weekend I’m studying on whether or not the love for a bold creek and steep mountains can be passed down as well.


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  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 13, 2021 at 12:07 am

    You and Paul look like your daddy. Steve doesn’t look like any one of the immediate family that I’ve seen. He always has a stoic expression like he’s the one you want around in a crisis. Like a leader, a no nonsense kind of guy.
    To me you don’t look like either of your girls in portrait and they are very easy to tell apart now. But, in a picture in profile, I have to look at the hair to tell the difference in you and either of your girls or tell them apart.
    Seeing video changed the way we see people. Still pictures tell very little. Video shows a thousand times more and especially when you talk.
    Either way reading or watching your work and that of your daughters is the focal point of my day! Sometimes I might not comment but I’m always here.

  • Reply
    Robert Hutchins
    October 12, 2021 at 5:06 pm

    My Grandpa died in 1897 before he was 40 years old. We have only one photograph of him. While I can’t tell anything about his stature from the photo – don’t know how tall he was – we do see a full beard and hooded eyes. One day our daughter was showing us a picture of her hubby – who has not yet reached 40 and has full, bushy beard an hooded eyes. We put the 2 photos side by side. Except for the obvious differences in photographic technology and sharp focus results, they might have been pictures of the same person. No, we are all from NC. Grandpa died in Swain County – the heart of Appalachia. My mother’s people and my wife’s people are all from Eastern or Piedmont NC. My son-in-law’s people are from Texas and Illinois with no known inter-family intermarriage.

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    October 12, 2021 at 12:10 pm

    Today’s topic is one I think about every day these days….what gets passed along to the next generation. If my old husband seems lazy, I will say he is acting like his mom…a person not known for physical work. If I am stubborn, he mentions I am just like my daddy…who was known for being bull headed. I have to admit…I do have his turn..
    My brother and I always laugh when we talk about those in our family that inherited “the hound dog gene” ….our phrase for really liking the opposite sex…a lot….My maternal papaw married late, age 20, after running around the country all the way to the Pacific and meeting lots of nice women along the way. He remembered these kind women and named his daughters after them…all 7 DAUGHTERS! After my grandma died, he married his brother’s widow…outlived her too , then married a third time at age 84 to sweet little old Addie who once whispered to my mom that theirs was a true marriage , in every way!
    As I said, some in our family tree sure do enjoy being in love.
    Then there are all the actual physical things…curly hair, shapes of faces, big hands…especially the big wide nose…that Sturgill nose, we call it. Everyone in the clan that has it…myself included…can talk endless ly….has never met a stranger. My third son once asked me what was up with …the nose…I told him , hush boy, you got the nose along with your gift of gab…the trait that makes you get the biggest tips at your waiter job…it is a package deal. The Surgill family also left big hands in the bloodline…we are the ones that shovel , or chop, and work all our life long…the ones that open the jars when no one else can. And though I have hated my big hands, they have served me well …and as I said, it was a package deal , I reckon.
    We have one photo of our Swedish grandpa . He came to America to cut the virgin forest and was killed by a giant falling chestnut tree when my dad was 4yrs old. I study that photo often…looking hard to find him in my face.
    Mannerisms or marks, we live with what we got from them . Like my family always has, I try to pass on the examples of hard work, honesty. …tenacity…or is that just Appalachian bull headedness.
    There are a couple great songs by THE JUDDS …about old photos…old stories… about what we are and how we got these faces . Y ‘all listen to them if you get a chance.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 12, 2021 at 12:04 pm

    Tipper–Other aspects of the genetic equation, and the intrigue me at least as much as physical similarities, involves inherited behavioral patterns (think stubbornness, moodiness, temper, kindliness, and the like), skills (musical ability, athleticism, artistic inclinations) intellectual ability (we all know families where multiple members are sharp as tacks or dumb as a collection of door knobs), and the like.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    October 12, 2021 at 11:20 am

    Tipper, that was a great story and so true. Just from seeing pictures you and the girls have show on YouTube. I can see how y’all resemble other family members past and present. Looking at my old family photos I too see resemblance through our family tree.
    Tipper, I totally agree with Rita S, “it’s refreshing to see and hear good Christian content and one doesn’t have to necessarily preach to illustrate Christ”. Well said Rita Speers.
    Tipper we appreciate you and your family for sharing with us all! Thank you!

  • Reply
    October 12, 2021 at 11:07 am

    The study of genealogy makes one ponder all kinds of resemblances. We have many extremely old pictures in our possession, and I have found many on that I never dreamed would be found. I have an Aunt Betty who shows a definite strong resemblance to a photo of her great grandmother. As we searched through an old one room school photo from around 1914 that included my grandmother, we became almost 100% certain the photo had captured the only known photo of a tiny great aunt named Pearlie. This was based strictly on the Pearlie’s age at the time of the photo and the fact she strongly resembled my aunt at that age. Also in this photo, Pearlie chose to move away from young girls her age and stand near our known identified great uncles. While cleaning the cemetery my uncle found three small graves with fieldstones between my two maternal great grandparents. One of the stones had PAL scratched into the stone. We have since used reunion money to place tombstones at these graves with birth and death and name identifying these young children. Forgotten no longer! Family resemblances is something we study a great deal in genealogy if we have been fortunate enough to have numerous old photos.
    Possibly due to my keen interest in this subject, I have looked closely at your family photos throughout the years on The Blind Pig. I have often seen those resemblances from Granny and her family to you and your twin daughters. Just habit I suppose for me to enlarge the photos on screen and compare closely. One photo you showed once of Granny’s family, I noted the resemblance of your daughters to one of Granny’s sisters. Of course it is easy. because I see that same gift of “pretty” passed down through your generations with the dark hair, eyes, and delicate facial features. No doubt if explored further you would find the gift of music making and even working with gemstones back into several generations. We had lots of cabinet makers, and almost to the man the male descendants have loved woodworking and building. One is so gifted he carves out chess pieces and builds furniture.

  • Reply
    Valeri K Feinbloom
    October 12, 2021 at 10:58 am

    The first time I ever heard “favors you” was about 20 years ago. A friend from Chicago remarked that my daughter favors me. I had to ask her what she meant, as I had never heard the term before. (My daughter does, indeed, favor me.) I assumed the term was from the Midwest region, as we don’t hear that expression here in upstate New York. Now learning that the phrase is also used in Appalachia, I wonder if her people could have been from your neck of the world. The world is such an interesting place. My grandmother used to say “Life is God’s way of keeping things interesting.” I agree. Hugs

  • Reply
    Angelyn Mclain
    October 12, 2021 at 10:42 am

    I so understand what you are saying. I can visit where I was born and as soon as I hit the county line I feel like I am home. What is so interesting though is I haven’t lived there since I was a wee baby.
    I also have a picture of my Grandmother, that I never got to meet, and our profiles are exactly the same. It must be what we lovingly call our Wheat nose.
    I really love your channel and smile every time I see that you have a new post. Thank you!

  • Reply
    October 12, 2021 at 10:36 am

    Tipper. after seeing pictures of your Mother when she was a young lady, I think you look very much like her. Your both beautiful. I have one cousin who looked exactly like her Mother when she was a child. A couple of years ago I attended a funeral for a cousin and another cousin said as I was leaving, ” you look like your Mother and Daddy. I guess she thought I had features of both. I do know the love of land and creeks can be passed down.

  • Reply
    donna sue
    October 12, 2021 at 10:12 am

    One of my passions is genealogy. About ten years ago I found a picture online that was posted by a distant relative that I have never met. He had posted a picture of a common ancestor that was on my Dad’s side. My jaw dropped when I saw the picture. It was my young Dad dressed in a Civil War outfit. This man could have been my Dad’s identical twin. And I mean identical. The amazing thing is the man never had children. He passed away within a few years after the War while still young. I printed off that picture and gave it to my Dad. I love the man’s name – Cleophus. Everyone in my family say I look like my Aunt Eleanor. She’s the daughter of my Mom’s foster mom. My Mom’s foster mom was my Dad’s father’s sister. So in a sense, Aunt Eleanor really isn’t my aunt, but she truly is a first cousin once removed. And yes, I strongly believe we inherit our passions in life, and also the things we don’t like. Personalities can be inherited, too. But character – that is something that is entirely your own. You might have some personality traits that could lean you toward a relative/ancestor’s character – but it is your choice to have good or bad character – to give into the bad personality traits, or to surrender those to God. Does that make sense? I am excitingly looking forward to more on this topic from you!!

    Donna. : )

  • Reply
    Yuvonda Seal
    October 12, 2021 at 10:06 am

    Absolutely love these comments. I found an old photo last Saturday of my grandparents family when they were babies. The photo had to be over a hundred years old. It was my mother’s family from Del Rio. And I saw a very definite resemblance to my grandson who is only 26 years old. It looked exactly like him. I have boxes of boxes of old old pictures. I am so grateful that I have them. Pictures of my mother’s family and my dad’s family.

  • Reply
    October 12, 2021 at 10:06 am

    Through DNA and brain studies, science has discovered that it is possible that we also inherit thoughts, desires, ambitions, generous tendencies (or tight as a drum), and more. No wonder its tough making up our ‘own mind’ sometimes! Your posts and videos are like breathing FRESH AIR AND SUNSHINE while sitting with my morning coffee. Grateful for you and your loved ones who share and celebrate Appalachia.

  • Reply
    October 12, 2021 at 9:56 am

    Do some research on “genetic memory.” I’ve always felt strongly connected to Ireland and Scotland where my ancestors came from. The first time I visited there I felt like I had come home. And there are certain places around where I grew up that give me a feeling that I belong there. It’s hard to explain but I understand your feeling about the creek and mountains 🙂

  • Reply
    October 12, 2021 at 9:22 am

    I truly enjoyed reading these enlightening observations.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 12, 2021 at 8:06 am

    You have brought up one of the great mysteries of life. How in the world can family characteristics be so durable down through the generations. It would seem at first as if anything halved then halved again and again would become vanishingly small rather soon; 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32, 1/64, 1/128 …. But somehow those family traits just don’t go away. Myself I would say that is intelligent design just for starters. But I think it is much more than just arithmetic.

    I don’t see so very well. At much distance I can’t recognize faces. But I have been astonished at how far away I can recognize form, even from the back. How in the world can that be? What is there to be individual about a person’s back? I can’t tell.

    My sister and I look more like Dad’s side of the family, the Stephens. My brother looks more like our grandmother’s side, the Carters. Goes for our natures to pretty much.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      October 12, 2021 at 1:29 pm

      99.9 percent of genes in humans are identical. 0.1 percent of our genetic make up contain our differences. That is 1/1000th! That means the odds are that we should all be very nearly indistinguishable from any other person in the world. If you had a crowd of 1000 people, 999 of them should look alike. So that 1/1000th of our genetic material makes up all of how we appear to other people. Size, shape, hair color, lack of hair or hairy as a bear, sex, facial characteristics, skin color and on and on.
      That being said, how do we know how other people really look. We only have our visual perception of how they appear. Light bounces off of them and into our eyes. The rods and cones in the back of our eyes convert that light in to an electro-chemical impulse which is carried by our optic nerve to our brain where is is converted into a mental image. So, we “see” with our brains not our eyes. We see with our thought processes. How then do we know for sure that what we think we see is what we really saw? How do we know what we think we hear is really what happened? The same applies to all our senses. As a matter of fact how can we say for sure that anything even exists outside our own brain?
      I guess by now you think I am totally out of my mind and you might be right. I might be totally in your mind?

      • Reply
        Robert Hutchins
        October 12, 2021 at 4:51 pm

        Ed, your questions reminded me of a philosophy course I took at UNC about 60 years ago. After an introductory lecture asking questions that were so nearly like yours that they might have been, we moved on to examining RenĂ© Descartes’ noted ‘cogito, ergo sum’ – I think therefore I am. I have since seen that extended by Antoine LĂ©onard Thomas’ ‘dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum’ – I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am”). I think that should tell you that your NOT out of your mind but in accord with prominent philosophers of old in questioning things.
        If we get it done to being ‘in the mind’, then our ability to discriminate sights, sounds, tastes, and touches might well start with physical stimuli – which might or might not be the same for everyone – the wonderful instrument of the God-given human brain allows us to make those determinations with ease.

  • Reply
    October 12, 2021 at 7:21 am

    A couple of days ago, I was looking for a cousin on FB. He was only pictured from the nose down but I knew I had found the right person . The mouth and chin were the ones I see in the mirror every day.

  • Reply
    Rita F Speers
    October 12, 2021 at 6:20 am

    I saw that resemblance in your photos too!! I also remember watching my(Dad’s sister) Aunt Vada’s hands as she gestured when she was talking, and it was just like looking at my Daddy’s hands. Their gestures had to have been genetic! So beautiful. In looking at old family pictures lately, I have seen my own Mother’s young photos match the photos of my sisters and their grandchildren taken at the same age! God’s handiwork is amazing! Love your site and your You Tube offerings! Thank you! Good Christian content is so spiritually refreshing! You don’t necessarily have to be preaching to illustrate Christ…..appreciate you!

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