Family Photos: Why do people look alike?

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Although 60 years may separate two photos, the face is the same. The smile is the same. The ears, the eyes. Although two generations have passed, it’s as if the two photos captured the same person at different moments in time.

Genetics play a role in the similarities between us, regardless of being a blood relative. For example, a man in Australia could be genetically identical by 99.9% to a person on another continent who is not his relative. Yet, that 0.1% makes all the difference.

We recently held a look-alike photo competition for which we asked users to send in look-alike photos of family members from different generations. The results were incredible. Here is one example below:

Born 87 years apart: Great-grandmother Michelle and great-granddaughter Lucy

Our genetic material, however, is complex – it contains about 22,000 genes, which are actually genetic commands. Our DNA holds a wealth of information and letters, of which only 10% is understood.

According to Professor Dr. Stavit Shalev, director of the Institute of Genetics at the Emek Medical Center in Israel:

When we talk about the similarities, we are talking about the materials and the building blocks that make up our tissues. These external and internal tissues, with family members, see similarities in the structure of proteins.

Children, Shalev explains, receive their genetic material, including elements of how they look, from each parent, with 50% coming from the mother and 50% from the father. However, this does not mean that the child’s genetic material will be a direct copy of both parents.

“The child receives a copy of the features he received from his parents, but the body mixes these features,” Shalev explains. “Proteins and other materials are mixed, and create their own version.”

So how do you explain how one person is a replica of a great-grandfather, but that no one else looks like him?

According to Shalev, “Every person has their own makeup of genetic material. Even brothers do not get exactly the same traits of their parents. There are traits that are dominant where some features are enhanced, while others are less affected. A grandchild can look similar to a great-grandparent because they have a large genetic similarity of 12.5%. On the other hand, the rest of the genetic makeup can include features that will look very different.”

Do you have family members that look like you? Let us know in the comments below!

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  • Norway Girl


    November 16, 2015

    I don’t look like any of my siblings! And I’m not adopted. They all have dark curly hair and I have straight blonde hair, I’m the only one with freckles. Some of my relatives say I look like my great aunts who are of Norwegian decent. It’s really weird introducing people and they ask if I was adopted!

  • Eileen Phelps


    November 17, 2015

    My facial features look just like my mother, but my skull shape is like her paternal grandmother. My scoliosis comes from my mother, who got it from her mother.

  • Renee


    November 17, 2015

    People who knew my father used to say I looked like him, and conversely those who knew my mother said I looked like her! I also looked a lot like my half-brother as a child, although, he apparently is the spitting image of his natural father! Go figure! Although the people with a Dutch ancestry in South Africa have a very small gene pool to work with, so we are probably far more closely related than we think!

  • Esther


    November 17, 2015

    We’d love to see photos of all the similarities!

  • Sidney


    November 18, 2015

    I have a nephew that strongly resembles his great grandfather, my grandfather.

  • Tal


    November 19, 2015

    I used to look just like my 1st cousin (father’s side), she is about 6 years older than me. When I was about 10 years old I saw a pic of both of us. When I asked mom about the pic she told I’m tha baby, and the girl is my cousin. Before it I thought I’m the girl and I didn’t recognise the baby! I also look a lot like my grandmother. Not very long ago I found out about a 4th cousin that I hadn’t know about, and we’re kind of similiar too. I also look very much like my half-brother (my dad’s son) and everyone say I look just like my mom (besides of my hair). My dad and grandfather (mom’s father) is a bit similiar and my mom and her 2nd cousins looks alike)

  • Suzanne Shillington


    November 23, 2015

    I have always looked exactly like my father ( eyes, heavy brows, shape of face (square); & he directly from my grandfather (his father). I have inherited a niece who comes close to looking a lot like me, and as she remarked nastily, “I’ve got the nose!” Recently, I’ve also inherited my mother’s engagement photo. IN this, I see for the first time, the almost enormity of my mother’s pug nose (mine is kind of en l’air), but there we are!

  • Laurie


    November 23, 2015

    My youngest son and my father looked a lot alike when they were each around 15 years old. Similar features and similar mannerisms.

  • Michel Eijndhoven


    November 25, 2015

    I am told i look a lot like the youngest brother of my mother, my uncle Henk. I never saw the resemblance. My mothers grandfather was the spitting image of president Breznev from Russia. His nickname was “Jan de Rus ” in the village he lived in, Volendam in the Netherlands

  • Sherry Poplarchik


    January 8, 2016

    My niece looks just like my mother’s maternal grandmother! And her father was adopted……..so we know nothing about his side of the family.

  • Suzanne Heaton


    January 9, 2016

    Just found a picture of my great grandfathers dad from 1898, born in 1859 & if you put it next to a picture of my dad same age. Hard to tell the difference.

  • Catherine wydner


    January 9, 2016

    My sister and our great-niece look much alike.

  • Jeanette Freeland.


    January 10, 2016

    I lopk like no one in my family at all.