The Lineage of Hans Christian Andersen
At first, one must endure so much hardship...
By Senior Curator Ejnar Stig Askgaard
Throughout time much research about H.C. Andersen has been dedicated towards his genealogy, and rightly so, as H.C. Andersen's life represents a successful career not many a Dane ever had and H.C. Andersen himself often questioned family relations and class differences in his work.
We all know this familiar theme: A person, unbeknownst to his legacy, works his way through life to the rank he originated from. Or thus articulated: A person born outside his natural rank or class eventually finds his rightful place in life through his traits and aptitudes. This predestined, antagonistic motive of duplicity in all mighty nature was very popular during the age of Romanticism and employed by many writers.
The most popular example in this case may well be Adam Oehlenschläger's Aladdin, whose main character turns out to be the son of the emir and is placed at the throne at the final act of the play. H.C. Andersen was greatly inspired by this character, and used numerous allusions to Aladdin in his works. The poet may himself have contributed to the fantasies regarding his background.
However, one must take caution against such theories; life itself was never reflected that closely in literary work, but this artistic message was the very core of Romanticism.
The artist views himself as alienated from society; as if his life was ill-timed. As opposed to his fellow creatures a poet was seen as a divine shareholder. A poet was considered a demigod - an ambassador of the divine and therefore at rank with society's most outstanding persons. He was a genius belonging to the 'spiritual nobility'.
The reason the genealogy in H.C. Andersen's lineage is still relevant may be due to the preludes and percussions in his work but also since H.C. Andersen was the 'last branch' on his family tree; roots gone ever lost. In Jens Jørgensen's research Jørgensen is searching for other branches belonging to this 'noble oak' which go far back in time.
I beg to differ: H.C. Andersen's family tree was deeply settled within the soil of the Funen peasantry. Andersen's stock does not represent royal ancestry but is mainly derived from poor, hard-working people whose lives culminated in insanity, early death, alcoholism and misery.
Andersen himself believed in rational theology as formulated in his textbook on religion written by Peter Krog Meyer. According to this theory, divine justice is represented by a balance between fate and personal worth. H.C. Andersen was the last link who could re-establish the balance between the worth of the family and its fate. It was vital - not only to himself but also to his contemporaries and even to people today - to raise the reputation from misery to glory.
It can be hard to accept such wondrous vicissitudes of life. Many feel the need - as Jens Jørgensen did - to give their reasons for H.C. Andersen's success by turning to complicated theories about specific origin and hidden agendas but these speculations distort a very simple story.
H.C. Andersen about himself and his next of kin
When H.C. Andersen wrote his first autobiography in 1832 - known as the Levnedsbogen - only two members of his family were still alive. His mother, residing at Doctors Boder very ill from alcoholism and his half-sister Karen Marie with whom he had no contact at all and did not wish to. The memory he had of his family from the time he lived in Odense ended by the time he left for Copenhagen at the age of fourteen.
From his time in Odense the young Hans Christian could count next of kin to:
Paternal grandfather: Anders Hansen, who was mentally ill and died at Gråbrødre Hospital, a lunatic asylum, in 1827.
Paternal grandmother: Anne Cathrine Nommensdatter, who passed away in 1822.
Maternal grandmother: Anne Sørensdatter, a widow died in Bogense in 1825. H.C. Andersen only met her on few occasions.
Father: Hans Andersen, died aged thirty-three in 1816.
Mother: Anne Marie Andersdatter died of Delirium Tremens at Doctors Boder in 1833.
As we see, H.C. Andersen only had a small group of people in a short period of time from whom he could gather information about his origin. Since this information came to H.C. Andersen early in life, it is not hard to understand how insufficient and obscure these memories must have seemed to him, when he wrote his memoirs many years later.
One must also bear in mind that he paid great attention to the readership in his first biography, a readership mainly belonging to the Collin family who represented the absolute elite. And Levnedsbogen was dedicated to the young daughter Louise Collin whom H.C. Andersen had fallen in love with. H.C. Andersen edited and revised his memories to protect his nearest family and hushed up the less becoming facts.
It has not been easy to account for H.C. Andersen's lineage through his own information. It certainly did not prove the best of help. An example: he failed to disclose that he had a half-sister. This was not revealed until after his death in 1875, when Breve til og fra H.C. Andersen (Letters to and from H.C. Andersen) was published.
Andersen kept this secret hidden until February 1842, when the sister searched for him. A very anxious H.C. Andersen confided in Jonas Collin Senior. Jonas Collin took the secret with him to his grave.
In H.C. Andersen's autobiographies, of which he wrote a total of three, the mother is not mentioned as much as the father. The maternal lineage is almost left out. He may not have known much about it or he might have felt ashamed, as the dairies and almanacs bear no markings of his mother's birthday.
He was not quite as taciturn when it came to his paternal lineage. The Nommesen family was 'tied' to this part, and since a highly regarded noble family lived in Denmark until 1811 with that very same name - but with no connection to H.C. Andersen - it was, after all, something.
In Mit Livs Eventyr (The Story of My Life) H.C. Andersen mentions that his paternal grandmother, was "born a Nommesen", a phrase hinting high esteem; the novel De to Baronesser (The Two Baronesses) also indicates this, as the middle-class student from Holstein bears that name.
H.C. Andersen's parents
H.C. Andersen remembered his father's birthday as well as the date of his death. One of the earliest manuscripts that we know of has a gently wrapped note of paper on the outside where it reads: "Lyfe and death in H. Andersen's life". And when the paper unfolds:
"H: Andersen freelance shoemaker born December 14 1782 and died* April 26 1816 and buried April 30 aged 33 and 3 months 3 weeks and 5 days [below on paper:] *on a Friday at 8 o'clock in the evening"
Though H.C. Andersen had not calculated his father's age correctly, the dates are right. Hans Andersen, an only child, was born in 1782 in Aalsbo, county of Rørup. At the age of six the family moved to Odense, where the grandfather, Anders Hansen, bought a small four-light windowed house in Pogestræde 14. Unfortunately this house no longer exists but it was located near to Magasin, where the couple had been engaged seven years before.
H.C. Andersen's father became shoemaker Chr. Holst's apprentice at the age of twelve. By 1798 he had become a journeyman and later on worked for master Jørgen Pommers' in Skt. Jørgensgade and quite possibly at master Poul Breinebergs in a workshop outside the gates Skt. Jørgen some years later.
I am supposing this since Poul Breineberg endorsed as best man at the engagement of Hans Andersen and Anne Marie Andersdatter - H.C. Andersen's parents, on January 5 1805 and again when mrs. Breineberg carried H.C. Andersen to church in Skt. Hans Kirke for his christening in April.
Relations between master and journeyman were fine. Apparently this came to an end by November 1805 where Hans Andersen applied for a freelance licence in Odense thus letting go of his tight financial relations to master Breineberg. "Seven marks a week", Hans Andersen writes in his application to the King, "is not enough to feed my family". "One presupposes that wife and two children cannot be fed, housed, clothed nor buy purchase firewood".
Becoming a freelance - or journeyman shoemaker would brighten the prospects for the young family, and despite the guild's strictest recommendation not to burden the guild or citizens with yet another freelance shoemaker the application was approved March 25 1806. During this time the family resided in Odense. In January 1806 at Holsedore, in May 1806 in Klaregade and May 1807 in Munkemøllestræde at the present small museum known as the childhood home of H.C. Andersen.
It was not easy for them. In 1813 The Commission for Poor People granted financial help to fifty-five persons and among them we find the small cobbler family. In 1812 the father entered the military. Military service was not enforced upon him, as he lived within the gates of Munkemølle. However, there was money to be made. H.C. Andersen's father took over the military service from a well-to-do son of a farmer, musketeer Gregers Hansen, who bought himself off.
Around July or August 1813, fifth Royal Regiment third battalion received their marching orders and headed for Holsten. In 1814 Hans Andersen returned from service without having been at war. But camp life had ruined his health. The settling of accounts from March 8 1815 mention his modest payment of 4 rix-dollars and 46 shilling. Hans Andersen "Aalsbo" passed away the year after, aged thirty-three.
Now the mother, Anne Marie Andersdatter, had to provide for the family. She worked as a washerwoman and at Odense Slot. In 1818 she re-married another freelance shoemaker, Niels Jørgensen Gundersen. Necessity drove the family to move in with her former in-laws in Pogestræde, where H.C. Andersen's stepfather also died, and left his widow in penury. The rough life as a washerwoman made the mother given to drink.
In the few preserved and available letters between mother and son we get a picture of how bad it was. "Please do not unscrew the cork too often, dear mother", Andersen begged, and asked colonel Høegh-Guldberg to administer the money he sent her to make sure they went towards food. In 1825 she was placed in a hospital located at Doctors Boder, where she stayed until her death in 1833. Cause of death: Delirium Tremens.
We first encounter Anne Marie Andersdatter at the census in 1787. At the age of twelve she was serving at distiller and in-keeper Rasmus Ibsens in Gråbrødrestræde. At a census in 1801 she was working for grocer Birkerod in Nørregade; age given as twenty-eight meaning she was born around 1773 or 1775. We do not know her father or where she was born and neither did H.C. Andersen although he assumed she was born in Bogense, as the maternal grandmother lived there. There is no file on her in Bogense parish register during that time, and it has not been possible to find files elsewhere.
Hans Andersen mentions two children in his application. It can only be Karen Marie - H.C. Andersen's half-sister and H.C. Andersen himself. Karen Marie must have been six years at that time. An illegitimate child fathered by potter journeyman Daniel Jørgensen Rosenvinge - a known womanizer. He had several illegitimate children that he did not care about. In a letter most humble Pro Memoria to mayor Lindved February 9 1807, Anne Marie Andersdatter complains that Daniel Rosenvinge had withheld six rix-dollars for 'help toward raising a child'. She most likely never got her money, as Daniel Rosenvinge was appointed to Kiel as infantryman.
The half-sister had her confirmation in 1814 then all track of her is lost until we hear about her in a letter from the mother to H.C. Andersen in 1822 letting the son know that Karen Marie had left for Copenhagen. In 1842 Karen Marie searched for her famous half-brother. He was struck with panic but after he had collected himself he supported the half-sister and her husband, Kaufmann. H.C. Andersen noted in the almanac: "She looked young and well-dressed. Karen Marie died of consumption aged forty-five.
In 1805 the poet's parents did not have their own roof over their heads. The mother was working in the parish of Skt. Knud where they also got married in February 2 1805 according to the registry. The father served master shoe maker Breineberg outside the gates of Skt. Jørgen - belonging to the parish of Vor Frue. H.C. Andersen was born in the parish of Skt. Hans.
In the 1920s biographist H.G. Olrik pointed out that there was no certainty whether H.C. Andersen was born at the corner of Hans Jensens Stræde and Bangs Boder - the present H.C. Andersen Hus. His parents were not registered inhabitants. The maternal grandmother did reside there with her second husband and fostered Karen Marie but moved to Bogense the year after the birth of H.C. Andersen. When the grandmother moved, Karen Marie went to live with her mother hence Hans Andersen mentioning of two children in the application.
When going through the housing lists in The Royal Archives one may read that the humble lodgings in Hans Jensens Stræde were taken over by Anna Nomens - a widow after Søren Nommensen - brother of Anne Cathrine Nommensdatter, H.C. Andersen's paternal grandmother. Anna Nomens resided in the house with her illegitimate son, Frederich. As great aunt to H.C. Andersen she was the only close family in the parish of Skt. Hans. Andersen was born in the parish of Skt. Hans, and since his parents did not have a home of their own but lived in other parishes, one may assume, that the birth may have taken place in the home of the great aunt. It is very likely that this house indeed was the birthplace of H.C. Andersen.
H.C. Andersen links his maternal lineage to Bogense. He may not have known that his maternal grandmother only moved to Bogense a year prior to his birth. The information was useful, as H.G. Olrik found a note in the Work House Records from 1806 in which the grandmother is requesting financial help.
Around that time the estate from her deceased husband, Jørgen, was administered. Anne Sørensdatter accounted for her life: she was married twice, her first marriage was to a tailor named Jens Perssen with whom she had "breed four offspring: two died in their infancy, and one, Anne Marie is alive and married to a shoemaker residing in Odense. He goes by the name of Hans Andersen, another child, Christiane, is staying in Copenhagen, whether she is married, is not known..."
The information is more or less accurate. Anne Sørensdatter married tailor Jens Pedersen in 1783 in the parish of Vor Frue. He died in 1790. A 1787 census locates the family to Adelgade 40. At the time of Anne Sørensdatter's first marriage she was 32 years. Her daughter, Christiane, aged 9 lived with her. Anne Sørensdatter did not bear all her children in the marriage to Jens Pedersen - Christiane was born out of wedlock.
The only legitimate child Anne Sørensdatter had was a son with the grand name Samuel Gothlieb Ernst Conradt Pedersen, who was baptised May 3 1785 and passed away shortly after. The other children had been born before and outside wedlock. In spring 1793 Anne Sørensdatter was punished with one week's imprisonment on 'bread and water' and placed in the gaol at Odense City Hall.
Her first spouse, tailor Pedersen was a 'gaolbird' too. He was an extremely poor widower and father of four from Svendborg. Through a complaint he filed, which did not turn out in his favour, he was sentenced to pay 62 rix dollars - an amount he naturally could not afford. He ended as prisoner No. 753 in Odense Gaol from November 1782 until spring 1783. The two gaolbirds met there and got married shortly after.
In the accounts for Uncertain Incomes from 1783 Anne Sørensdatter is mentioned in regards to her latest tenancy in 1781. This tenancy also included her daughter Marie Kirstine, born in August 1781 in the parish of Vor Frue. The child died shortly after. The father was hatter Reiter Steensen. The two other children - those surviving childhood, were Christiane and Anne Marie.
Christiane is registered in the parish of Ubberud and baptised Advent of 1778. Sadler Johann Gottfried Meyer Fascher registered as putative father. Christiane is the child mentioned in Anne Sørensdatter's request for poor relief and the daughter who later on moved to Copenhagen thus the one H.C. Andersen correctly calls the half-sister of his mother in Levnedsbogen (The Story of My Life).
H.C. Andersen searched for aunt Christiane upon arriving in Copenhagen in 1819 and needing a place to stay. She seemed a well-off lady and widow of a captain. Her home was neat. The truth was that she had earned her wealth from prostitution. Christiane Jansen was not a widow but a procuress in her own brothel. Upon her death in February 1830 Christiane left behind two "daughters", which Olrik Otto Vilh. Sommer later learned were 'unfortunate occurrences' or industrial accidents.
It has not been possible to find the birth year or birthplace of Anne Marie Andersdatter, but it is very likely that she was the eldest of presumably more siblings given her declared age.
The maternal grandmother, Anne Sørensdatter married again in 1794 - parish of Skt. Hans Kirke to hatter Jørgen Sigvard Rasmussen. The 1801 census informs that she is residing at Hans Jensens Stræde 540, the present number eight. She shared the lodgings with a much younger man - about twenty years her junior, and granddaughter Karen Marie - half-sister to Andersen.
In 1802 Jørgen Rasmussen was night watchman in Odense but dismissed around Christmas the same year. He had been attacked by four wanton theatre guests disguised from the masked ball and not only brutally beaten but also robbed off his spiked mace, which his attackers used for smashing a streetlamp. The whole incident was contentious as Jørgen Sigvard Rasmussen presumably was attacked by youngsters from the bourgeoisie.
The case ended in a blatant miscarriage of justice: Jørgen watchman was accused of having faked the attack himself in fear of the consequences for losing the spiked mace! On Christmas Eve 1802 the papers wrote about his disgraceful misdeed.
Hunger drove a dishonured Jørgen watchman to leave Odense. He lived until the age of forty-three as night watchman in Bogense and passed away in 1806.
Until quite recently is has not been possible to trace much of Andersen's maternal ancestry but new information has seen the light of day. Soon after the opening of the earliest museum guests could tell about the maternal ancestry. Most of these recounts point to county of Ubberud, westbound of Odense. Which also agrees with the christening register of Andersen's aunt Christiane in 1778.
Godparents are often related to the child: let us take a closer look at them. Two of the godparents are of interest: Hans Mikkelsen and Marie Sørensdatter. Hans Mikkelsen was brother-in-law to maternal grandmother Anne Sørensdatter by marriage to Anne's older sister, Karen. Marie Sørensdatter was sister of Anne (and Karen). Their father was Søren Sørensen.
In August 1742 he married Kirstine Jørgensdatter in Korup Kirke, in the same parish register we read about Anne Sørensdatter's christening May 23 1743. Søren Sørensen was copyholder from Koelbjerg but took over the small one- acred farm, owned by the county proprietor, in 1755. Søren Sørensen died in Lille Ubberud in 1772.
H.C. Andersen was close to his paternal grandparents. They lived in Pogestræde only a stone's throw from his childhood home. Andersen was particularly close to his grandmother Anne Cathrine Nommensdatter - daughter of very poor troop drummer Nomen Nommensen and wife Karen Sørensdatter. Anne Cathrine Nommensdatter was born in Odense in December 1745, married December 1781 to Anders Hansen and died aged 76 in 1822.
The grandmother was in many ways a guardian angel to H.C. Andersen. What she was unable to do for her own child she did for her grandson. Levnedsbogen is launched with a typical description of the talents of Andersen's father. He was "outstandingly bright", Andersen writes, in fact, so bright that the wealthy citizens offered their financial help so that he might continue his studies. But the father of this prodigy child would not hear of it.
He "insisted", Andersen continues stressing the verb insisted - for the son to become a shoemaker." A few pages further on it reads that Andersen's father was very kind to his mother, but he could not "forget that the mother never fought against the father so that he, the son, could continue his studies".
The relationship between H.C. Andersen's father and his parents may have been quite reserved, as it is highly remarkable that Andersen was born in the house of his aunt and not in the home of the grandparents. It is even more astonishing that the grandparents did not help Andersen's parents financially, as the paternal grandfather was rather wealthy at some point.
This was quite unusual but Andersen's grandfather was mentally ill. In Andersen's journals, memoirs and literary work the grandfather haunts him like a nightmare. The grandfather is also mentioned in other people's memoirs, people who lived in Odense at that time. Anders Hansen was a journeyman shoemaker who ran away from his master and was fined for it. He had a liking for carving strange wooden figurines, ran about in the streets wearing paper hats and eventually succumbed to insanity.
The situation became so grave that H.C. Andersen's mother had to ask her son to write a letter to the mayor imploring him to place the grandfather in Gråbrødre Hospital - a lunatic asylum. The permission was granted but poor Anders - or "Traes" as he was called managed to escape only to be caught later on and eventually admitted to the bedlam. He died poor and demented in 1827 aged 72.
After the admission Anders Hansen's belongings were divided leaving Andersen as sole heir. Apart from the house, there was nothing of worth, until the probate court found small boxes containing fifty rix dollars in current notes plus more than two-hundred rix dollars no longer in stock.
This seemingly great fortune was worth nothing in 1822, since the National Bank refused to convert old notes to current ones. Anders Hansen could not profit from his stored savings nor could the sole heir at the winding-up.
Great grand family - Paternal line
'Mad' Anders "Traes" Hansen came from Rørup. Born and baptised in Hækkebølle in 1754. Son of Hans Gormsen and Maren Andersdatter. The county proprietor in Erholm had given them a copyhold farm which they operated very well indeed. Anders Hansen was the youngest in a crowd of three. The father, Hans Gormsen died aged 29, when the small son was but one year old. The father's death devastated the family.
In order to keep the farm going the young widow married farmhand Jørgen Hansen who had served under the rural dean in Gelsted. Reading the probate court report is impressive: Each child received twenty rix dollars right away, a bed of their own, a chest of drawers and a cow. From this information one can gather that it was a rather wealthy estate. Since all the children were minors the value had to be tied up in the estate until further notice.
As the older brother - according to tradition - would take over the farm it was only natural for Anders Hansen to become a craftsman and head for the market town. It was there he met the future grandmother of H.C. Andersen. In the first sentences of Levnedsbogen H.C. Andersen accounts for the disaster, which struck down on the small farm family, stating the reason for being sick livestock. It had the 'desired' effect: hardship resulted in H.C. Andersen's grandfather becoming deranged.
Storyteller Andersen tells us that Anders Hansen's wife, Anne Cathrine Nommensdatter, was a noble grandmother from Kassel. But due to love of a "comedian" the young lady had eloped thus heading straight for poverty. This was not quite the case. Anne Cathrine's grandmother was a poor girl from Assens named Karen Nielsdatter; she did not elope with a comedian but married town post-rider Søren Jensen.
However, the poet's great-grandmother - child of the above Karen and Søren - Karen Sørensdatter did marry Nomen Nommensen from Schleswig in Kappel in November 1742. Nomen Nommensen was a very poor hatter who later on, upon arriving in Odense, assumed the humble yet secure position as troop drummer. And the claimed poverty was correct. The family was indeed extremely poor.
After the death of Nomen Nommensen in 1787 his widow and five children lived with an older daughter and son-in-law in Pogestræde. Karen Sørensdatter died a pauper at Doctors Boder in 1799, so poor that there is no record of her in the parish register or the probate court.
This sad story is coming to an end but let us draw attention to the blossom planted by H.C. Andersen on his family tree, and the joy he brought into so many homes across the entire world because of his stories. It is very happy news that H.C. Andersens Hus most likely is the birthplace of the poet. We are so pleased of having been made aware of new information about his maternal family.
Further investigation into the lineage of H.C. Andersen has now been made possible and if one intends to study the family tree further, many will be able to flaunt their relation with the great poet.