Kleimenhagen to Climenhag*: A Theory, Pt. 1

K to CI have previously mentioned the land grant application of Henry Climenhagen, dated July of 1797, and the subsequent arrival of the land grant receipt in 1805. It has also been established that Henry’s German surname was Kleimenhagen, and, according to the Upper Canada records, that he preferred to use the Anglicanized form of his surname ‘Climenhagen.’ But, there certainly must be more to this story. Why, for instance, did the Climenhagen spelling not carry on after Henry’s death in 1805? And what circumstances took place that allowed four unique surname spellings—Climenhaga, Climenhage, Climenhegg, and Glimanhaga—to emerge and flourish?

Here, I have put together a possible theory (or theories) based on my interpretation of the written documents. However, I have also taken certain liberties in completing the following narrative, particularly in my ‘reading into’ the motivations and actions of this family’s early ancestors. Therefore, the following narrative should be read with a critical eye.


Beginning in 1805, two events occurred within months of each other that are believed to have forever altered the family name. The first was the arrival of the land grant receipt in the name of ‘Henry Klimenhaga’—this, apparently, a mistaken reading of Henry’s signature on his land grant petition by the Receiver General’s Office.

klimenhaga_receipt_1805Four months later, in June of 1805, Henry Climenhagen died. By 1805 Henry’s family had grown to include five children: Anna, Martin, Henry junior, Abraham, and Moses. As Henry’s children were quite young at the time of his death it is doubtful they ever really understood the relationship between the Anglicanized Climenhagen spelling of the surname and the original Kleimenhagen version. And without close relatives of Henry’s living nearby who could tell them otherwise, some may have believed that the ‘Klimenhaga’ spelling found on the newly drafted land receipt was the correct one–but I am getting ahead of myself. Thus, it is believed that the close proximity of these two events occurring in 1805, at least in part, left this family’s surname in flux throughout most of the 19th century.

Let the records speak

There are many records that we can draw on to plot the changes in the family name over time including census records, land records, marriage, birth and death records, wills, and grave markers amongst others. The most convincing of these records are the ones accompanied by actual signatures. No doubt some particular spellings of the family name in certain records were influenced by record takers interpretations of the surname spelling as it was told to them. If we were to focus our attention on individual records we might conclude that much of these documented spellings are simply random noise in the data. This is to say that many of the different spellings recorded over the 19th century may have been due to mistaken interpretations of the name, or simply due to indifference of certain family members toward a particular spelling. However, when we step back and look at the data as a whole we begin to see distinct patterns emerge over time. The following analysis covers the one hundred years after the death of Henry senior (1805 – 1905)—a time period spanning generations two through four. Unfortunately, there is an eighteen year gap in the written records between the years 1806 and 1824.

1825 to 1840: The brothers Glimanhaga

Beginning in 1825, Henry’s 500 acres of land were divided amongst his five children. These lands included the 200 acres in Willoughby Township acquired from the Crown in 1797, and an additional 300 acres located in Bertie Township that were purchased from Parshall Terry in 1799. In Henry’s last Will and Testament he states, “…I also Alow my Childer to have equal Shares all of them of all that I now posess…” Because the 500 acres were lumped together, for each 100 acre parcel four of the siblings gave a ‘quit claim’ on that piece of property. A quit claim is a legal way to transfer real estate, typically between family members, in which the grantor terminates or ‘quits’ his or her right to the property thus allowing claim to transfer to the grantee. Each recipient or grantee signed his or her name to the deed. Henry’s oldest son Martin, upon receiving his share of his father’s lands, marks his name with an ‘x’ beside Martin Clemenhaga—a few years later, in the 1828 Bertie Township census, he is listed as Martin Climenhagen. In contrast, upon receiving their share of their father’s estate, Henry’s three youngest sons, Henry junior, Abraham, and Moses, all signed their surname ‘Glimanhaga.’ This Glimanhaga spelling is also apparent on the marriage banns of Abraham (1825) and Henry junior (1826), as well as on various other documents.

The question arises as to why these brothers adopted this peculiar ‘G’ spelling at this time, and how, if their father used a ‘K’ or ‘C,’ they could have gotten it so wrong. There are several avenues we can follow that help to answer these questions. First, records suggest that the unique spelling may be due, in part, to where, and by whom, the three youngest children were raised after their father’s death. According to Canadian census records (1851 to 1871), and their individual records of death, Henry’s two oldest children, Anna and Martin, were Tunkers. These same records clearly indicate that the two youngest children, Abraham and Moses, followed the Mennonite faith. This difference in religious denomination suggests that after Henry’s death the two oldest children were raised (by other families?) in the vicinity of Bertie Township near to the Tunker minister John Winger—their neighbour. The two youngest children, who were 5 and 3 years old respectively, most likely stayed with their mother and her relatives closer to Willoughby Township. Henry’s wife and her family are believed to hail from the old Pequea Mennonite Colony in Martic Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. And if the assumed family associations are correct for Barbary, she had relations living in Willoughby (i.e., her 1st cousin once removed Eve (Byers) Shoup and husband Christian Shoup) and a brother, Moses Byers, living in Bertie Township.

As such, the older siblings, and Martin in particular, may have been influenced to a greater degree as to the spelling of the surname by friends of their father, compared with Henry’s two youngest sons. Henry junior appears to also have been raised in Willoughby as a “Henry Glimenhage” is named in an informal list of Willoughby residents in 1837 found amongst the papers of Michael Gonder. According to land deed records Henry junior was using the ‘G’ spelling as late as 1840. Therefore, the probability is high that he also spent his formative years in Willoughby Township. Henry junior later appears in the 1861 Canadian census for Bertie Township as a member of the Tunker faith.

Although the suggestion that the three youngest brothers being raised together (apart from their older siblings) helps to explain the commonality of their ‘G’ spelling, it does not explain why the brothers used a ‘G’ in the first place. That is, why, if the ‘K’ spelling appears on the land grant receipt, did they choose to go by Glimanhaga? These differences can be attributed to the interchangeability of k and g in the “Pennsylvania Dutch” dialect.[1] This is particularly the rule for consonants /k/ → /ɡ/ especially when followed by consonants such as /l/ and /ɹ/; e.g., klein → glee. Thus, we might speculate that the ‘G’ spelling was heavily influenced by their mother Barbary and her immediate family. As previously stated, Barbary’s family is believed to have immigrated to Upper Canada from Martic Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—Martic lies in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch (Deutsch) country. As such, Barbary would be fluent in (if not entirely dependent on) the Low German or “Mennonite German” language wherein sounds of words beginning with a ‘G’ or ‘K’ were somewhat interchangeable. In fact, the Kleimenhagen surname itself was originally spelled Gleimenhagen prior to the switch in Germany to the High German dialect. As the three brothers grew up in Willoughby they may have come to believe the surname was actually spelled with a G based on the pronunciation they heard. Only later when they received their share of their father’s lands, and witnessed the spelling of the surname therein, would a few of them come to question this ‘G’ spelling.

On December 16th, 1835, Henry’s middle child, Abraham, died and was buried in Winger Cemetery (Black Creek Pioneer Cemetery today). Although it is clear that he was in the habit of using the Glimanhaga spelling only ten years previous, on his grave marker his family name is spelled “Climenhegg.” [2] From this it can be assumed that Abraham had adopted the new spelling shortly after receiving his land parcel in 1825. Abraham’s eldest son Nathaniel, who was only 8 years old when his father died, went on to perpetuate this unique spelling as did his descendents. One possible explanation for the ‘double g’ ending for this family line may be directly due to the spelling of Henry’s surname on the 1799 land deed  between Henry senior and Parshall Terry (300 acres in Bertie Township) wherein he is recorded as Henry ‘Clymenhaggen.’ Whether or not Abraham believed the ‘double g’ spelling to be the correct one, or that he simply preferred it to other spellings of the family name, we will never know.

In 1828 Moses Glimanhaga sold his one hundred acre parcel in Willoughby Township to Elizabeth Shoup and relocated to Whitechurch Township, York County, Ontario. By 1840 he had left Canada and purchased land in Greensburg Township, Putnam County, Ohio.[3] As Moses left early on he was no longer exposed to the relative pressures of the surname spelling that seemed to influence his brothers and their descendants. As a result he never wavered from this particular spelling. However, the name would not flourish. Although Moses had five sons, two died in childhood, one died in the American Civil War, and one never married. The only son who did marry—Adam—had three girls (he also had a son who died in infancy). Of Moses’ six daughters, one died young, one married, and the remaining four were spinsters all their lives. Thus, when the last of Moses’ children—daughter Catherine—died in 1923, the ‘G’ spelling died with her.

Updated 7 May 2015

Footnotes    ((↵) returns to text)

  1. Kuhns, O. (1901/2006). The German and Swiss settlements of colonial Pennsylvania: A study of the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch. Westminster, MD: Heritage Books.(↵)
  2. As of 2010 the monument has not been found but is transcribed in the publication “Black Creek Pioneer Cemetery (OGS #4622), by d’Entremont & Stevens, 1989.”(↵)
  3. In 1848 Moses relocated to Harrison Township, Elkhart County, Indiana—he died in Harrison Township in 1875.(↵)
This entry was posted in Family Name, Kleimenhagen. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.