Found Photos

 Found photos

and learning to see

Last weekend, I was working assiduously on an article. A publication that I love had a call for submissions for Fall 2024 on the theme of Reuse, Repair, and Recycling. It seemed kismet that I had just written a letter to all of you about Jane Austen, Scarcity, and Mawmaw’s Quilts. So, I fashioned an article for them focusing more specifically on my great-grandmother Narcie’s quilts. 

In the process of writing the article and looking for photographs, I revisited Narcie’s photo box which I’ve been pouring over ever since Dad and I designed the booklets for my Jewell Ridge Coal CD. This collection of photos has been the wellspring for my creative work for the last twenty years, yet I always discover something previously unseen in these pictures. Part of it is that I have slowly taught myself to recognize the faces of my ancestors. By chance, one photo will have a name on the back of it and that helps me decipher other photos.

Also, my tireless grandmother has gone over the photos with me again and again, and through the miracle of being able to zoom in on the computer her ninety-year-old eyes can see people who would otherwise be too small or too blurry. 

So, in the photo at the top of my letter, I give you my great-grandmother Narcie Smith, her husband Avery Smith, and Narcie’s mother Sarah (Margaret Nipper) Hylton. There are several family photos taken at different times in front of this particular hedge. I’m trying to work out whether the hedge was in Whitewood, Virginia, Sophia, West Virginia, or Clell, Virginia. This photo is from 1937. Like a gift, there’s a date stamp and a Roanoke, Virginia, photo developer’s name on the back. What luck! Now, my job is to look at census reports to see where Sarah and Charley Hylton lived in 1937. Had they moved to Sophia yet? Charley’s family wasn’t pleased that he’d married a half-Cherokee woman and, eventually, he got fed up with his extended family putting her down and moved Sarah away from the Contrary Creek area of Virginia to Sophia, West Virginia. Contrary Creek sounds about right.

Aunt Bobbie on the right. Still figuring out which sister is on the left, but I love her overalls. Aunt Bobbie married Leonard Snead and lived in Clell, Virginia. My cousin Patrick remembers that Aunt Bobbie made bread every day and put a clean white sheet across the leftovers on the table after the mid-day meal and then uncovered them for the evening meal because their family had no refrigerator. I speak about this in a song called, Pictures Old and Torn

Sometimes, I ask myself why I love looking into all of this – these photos of people long dead many of whom I never met. The answer isn’t one answer or straightforward, but what comes to mind right now is that they speak to me. I think they ask me to be curious about them. They want to be part of the now in songs and stories. They are atomically part of me, materially part of me. Their actions and views, their loves and losses, each built up to the moment when I was born and I became part of the big story which unfolds unceasingly even after I’m gone, too. Had one little toe turned the other way, perhaps I wouldn’t be here. So, I’m reaching into their starlight to say thank you and I’m listening for their voices in the chime of ethereal matter. Sounds a bit far-fetched, but it’s how I feel.

I hear you, Aunt Laura. When I see a photo of Aunt Laura and her children I want to reply to them across the semicolon of the universe to say hello. As David Byrne wrote in one of my Dad’s favorite songs Once in a Lifetime, “Time isn’t holding up, time isn’t after us. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was . . . .” Yes, time continues to flow, “letting the days go by, water flowing underground.” Or as we sang at the First Presbyterian Church of Brookline, Massachusetts, “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen. Amen.”

In other news . . . 

I’ve just had a new article out for Modern Daily Knitting about the AMAZING picture sweaters of Gyles Brandreth on show at the lovely lovely Petersfield Museum in the south of England. AND Modern Daily Knitting have their new Field Guide out with DREAMY patterns by Dee Hardwicke who lives in Wales and has one of the most enchanting desks I’ve ever seen. If you’re into knitting, I encourage you to check it out. Modern Daily Knitting isn’t just a website or a shop. They are a group of dedicated women putting together something positive for your inbox every day AND they have really solid instructional posts that don’t leave beginners behind. I’m very luck to write for them and to have discovered them in my knitting journey. If you’re in the USA, you can purchase their books, yarn, and really cool knitting stuff from their shop. If you’re in the UK, you can purchase their Field Guides at different shops, but I love this shop


Lastly, I think we must all be feeling very sad and frightened by the fighting in Israel and Gaza. I am. I almost never write about current events on my social media or here because I am never looking for a debate, I’m not a political analyst, I don’t have any useful answers, and I am incredibly sensitive to negativity. But, with my deepest kindness, I want to say that if you are troubled, I want you to feel love and understanding from me. I’ve met almost everyone who gets this newsletter in person at some point. Other folks I’ve met online through common interests and beautiful connections. We are separated by geography right now, but I know you are there. I am here. If you know anything about me, you will know that I hug everyone who wants a hug and I have so much love in my heart to give. Please accept my love and friendship for whatever help that may give to you right now.

Your friend,


My hands. My grandmother’s hands. Quilting. This is LOVE for me.


Leave a comment

Find me on:



YouTube and here on YouTube, too

My Website

My Shop

Modern Daily Knitting

X formerly known as Twitter (not a frequent twitter user, but I am there)


Popular Posts