Approaching Anaïs Nin’s birthday: Her Danish and French ancestry

Center, most likely Sophia Christensen, AN's great-aunt.

Center, possibly one of AN's great-aunts on the Danish side.

We are posting events leading up to Anaïs Nin’s birth, February 21st, 1903. 

Thanks to Gayle Nin Rosenkrantz (Anaïs Nin’s niece and daughter of Thorvald Nin, Anaïs’s younger brother) and some of her Danish cousins, we can sort out some of the rather complicated details of Anaïs Nin’s Danish and French ancestry. Some of this information is anecdotal, but much of it is documented and runs counter to Nin biographer Deirdre Bair’s account.

 

This we know for sure: Thorvald Culmell (1847-1906) was a Danish immigrant who settled in Cuba during the 19thcentury, where he married Anaïs Vaurigaud November 12, 1870 and fathered nine children. Rosa, Anaïs Nin’s mother, was the eldest Culmell child, born in 1871.

Anaïs Culmell (nee Vaurigaud y Bourdin), Anaïs Nin’s grandmother, was the youngest child of Pierre Vaurigaud, a Cuban-born engineer whose journal was translated by Gayle into English. Anaïs was born November 27, 1853 in Havana. It is said she never set foot on the soil of any other country. While Bair claims Pierre was the son of Napoleonic general and his Creole wife, in fact the Napoleonic general was Bernard Bourdin, Pierre Vaurigaud’s father-in-law, and the Creole was Pierre’s wife (Anaïs Bourdin y Flack, baptized Catherine Rose, perhaps because Anaïs was not considered a Christian name), who was born in New Orleans. Family history says that Pierre’s parents were descendants of French planters who’d fled what is now Haiti after the slave rebellion around 1800. Anaïs Culmell (Vaurigaud) died in Havana in the 1920s. Thorvald Nin happened to be in Cuba at the time and acted as one of the pallbearers.

Thorvald Culmell, Anaïs Nin’s grandfather, was actually born Thorvald Christensen, one of two brothers who emigrated from Denmark to make their mark in the Americas. Some correspondence from the Danish side of the family indicates that a third brother, Carl Lauritz (1832-1899), settled in Australia. The other brother who came to the Americas was Peter Emilius (1834-1914). Peter Emilius used the name Charles Culmell or Charles Culmell Christensen in the United States some years before Thorvald came to Cuba. Peter Emilius amassed quite a fortune, and family legend says part of it came from blockade running during the U.S. Civil War.

While Thorvald stayed in Cuba and became a wealthy businessman, Peter Emilius moved to Texas and raised a family. Most likely around 1867, he returned to Denmark after his wife Ella (born Edwards) died in an epidemic. He then married his housekeeper, Sophia, and had two daughters with her. The center figure in the photo above is possibly Sophia, as one of the Danish cousins sees a resemblance from an earlier photo taken of her. 

According to Deirdre Bair, Anaïs Culmell left Thorvald after having relations with other men, moved into her own house, and although still married, lived her life independently, foreshadowing certain aspects of Anaïs Nin’s lifestyle.

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