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The Mysterious Harisonia

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May 9, 2013 by kristin

Sonia Daniel

Once upon a time when I still lived in my Victorian house, I coveted the gorgeous antique portraits decorating several of my neighbors’ antebellum houses. I wanted some paintings for my walls, too, but found them prohibitively expensive. We were newlyweds renovating the house ourselves, so dropping $800 on a painting was out of the question.

I decided antique photographs were a more affordable way to get some creepy old stranger-faces onto our walls and went hunting on eBay. Now usually, I stay clear of eBay, because once I get started, I won’t come up for air until I have a whole new collection of something. It happened with the vintage postcards (framed in my dining room), the vintage issues of Good Housekeeping magazine (I’ll show you the covers some time – they are to die for), and the vintage dolls (that one started when I was buying my mom a gift of a Chatty Cathy and ended umpteen 1960′s dolls later).

Naturally, I now have hundreds of antique photographs. Most of them I got in a couple of “HUGE LOTS!!!” on eBay, and to my simultaneous delight and dismay, each lot was an album worth of family memories. I couldn’t imagine what circumstances would drive a family to sell or throw away these beautiful photographs – does no one care about history anymore?! – and I vowed to treasure them myself, to adopt the people in them as my own antique family.

I framed my favorites and hung them on my walls – the creepy baby twins in matching christening gowns, the handsome Victorian family, the willowy dark-eyed beauty named Sonia.

Though we moved from the Victorian house and I haven’t found places for all my beautiful photos in my modern abode, Sonia’s portrait is still perched on top of the piano. She appears multiple times in my collection, with her name written on the photo card.

I wanted to know more about her, and the others, so I went a little crazy on Ancestry.com, as I am wont to do. I found out her maiden name was Harisonia Marstella Pierson, and she was born in 1861 in Virginia. In 1887, she married Charles Ambrose Daniel, a merchant. They had five children, three boys and two girls.

That’s all very cool to know. But as with genealogical research on my actual family, the thrill of discovering that kind of information quickly turns a bit hollow. I now know Sonia was short for Harisonia, but I don’t know why her parents chose such an unusual name for their only daughter. Was she named for a family friend? Or the doctor who performed her miraculous delivery? Did her mother go into labor in Harison’s General Store? Or on Harison Street? Were her parents big supporters of President William Henry Harrison, who died 20 years earlier?

One day, I plan to solve that mystery, or at least solve it to my own satisfaction. Which is to say, I’ll make something up and write it down, and that is almost as good as truth, right?


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About Kristin

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Kristin L. Walters is the author of YA historical novel THE GIRL IN LILAC AND GRAY. She blogs about writing and reading historical fiction, and the things that inspire her - family, genealogy, old houses, Victorian photographs.

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