CLIMENHAGA: Whence Comest Thou?


I begin this post by acknowledging that I am not a Climenhag-with-an-a. I am, instead, a Climenhag-with-an-e. Contrary to the opinion of some, neither spelling is true or correct, each having evolved from the German surname Kleimenhagen and its Anglicized form of Climenhagen.

It seems obvious how we arrived at the Climenhage spelling—drop the ‘n’ and voila! But how is it that some of us inherited the Climenhag-with-an-a-spelling? Well, it’s a mystery actually. And, to be honest, I don’t have the answer—at least not a clear answer. Still, to me the question deserves some attempt at an explanation. As such, it’s my theory that the Climenhaga spelling is due to a clerical error—a mistake. Now, you may be thinking that’s just the kind of thing a Climenhage would say. Although that might be true, and before you take up your torches and pitchforks (or at the very least unfriend me on Facebook), hear me out.

Henry Climenhagen, this family’s common ancestor, came to Canada from Germany, by way of Pennsylvania, and settled in Bertie Township, in what would later become Ontario. Not long after his arrival he died leaving behind a wife and five children. Henry’s oldest child was twelve at the time of his death, and Henry had no German relatives in Upper Canada. It stands to reason that no one living in that part of the world knew the true and correct spelling of Henry’s ‘Kleimenhagen’ surname. The only thing his descendants had to go on were a few documents—and at least one of those documents misspelled his name Klimenhaga.

The document in question is the receipt issued by the Receiver General’s Office on February 2nd, 1805 in response to the Upper Canada Land Petition of Henry Clymenhagen, granting him 200 acres in Willoughby Township. Unfortunately, Henry’s copy of this receipt has been lost with time. The one that appears below comes from the Archives of Ontario.[1] It is also believed that the land grant itself had misspelled Henry’s surname. This document at present is also lost–all that remains is the wax seal that accompanied the document.

“Henry Klimenhaga has paid into this Office £3.5.2 for a Grant of 200 Acres ordered him in Council OR on 25 July 1797 The Surveying fees if any to be paid at the Surveyor Generals office [Signed] Peter Russell RGUC To The Clerk of E Council”

Peter Russell, Esquire, Receiver General of Upper Canada.
Peter Russell, Esquire, Receiver General of Upper Canada.

The land grant and receipt were issued by Peter Russell, Receiver General of Upper Canada. Russell appears to have misread Henry’s signature on the original land grant petition (shown below), and wrote Klimenhaga instead of Kleimenhagen. It is interesting to note that, in 1805, Russell had a lot on his mind. Through a number of debacles his influence, as well as his position, was greatly diminished. Although he desired to return home to England he could not raise the necessary capital. Therefore, he was forced to remain in York, “tired, sick, and old.”[2]

Still, Russell’s mistake appears to be an honest one because Henry’s signature does look like ‘Klimenhaga.’ However, there are enough examples to show that his German surname was, in fact, Kleimenhagen.[3] Additionally, the name Klimenhaga doesn’t exist in German records, and the word “haga” has no meaning in the German language. In contrast, the word “hagen’ means surrounded by a hedge or protective enclosure like a wood, often associated with a castle,[4] and likely derives from the original village name–for example, Wolfhagen.


Climenhag-with-an-a in records and documents

Beginning about 1825 the surname Glimanhaga or Glimenhaga first appears in the records. The ‘G’ spelling is of little importance to this particular argument. Suffice it to say that g, c, and k are all interchangeable by sound in the Low German language, including the Mennonite German, and Pennsylvania Deutch dialects.[5] What’s important is that as early as 1825 the Climenhag-with-an-a spelling is found in the marriage records of two of Henry’s children, as well as some land sale records.[6]

Henry’s children, in order of birth, were Anna, Martin, Henry Jr., Abraham, and Moses. As only Martin and Henry Jr., and their descendants, used the Climenhaga and Climenhage spellings, I will only focus on those branches. In an informal 1828 census son Martin is listed as Climenhagen or Climenhager.[7] In the 1851 Canadian Federal Census Martin and his three sons Moses, David, and Martin junior, who were grown and had family’s of their own, also went by Climenhagen.[8] In the 1861 and 1871 census records, they were recorded as Climonhage and Climenhage respectively.[9] In the 1861 Canadian Federal Census son Henry Jr. is listed as Climanhage or Clemonhage, as are his sons William, Abraham, and David.[10] In the 1871 census Henry and his descendants were Climanhager, and by the 1880s and 1890s they were Climenhage and Climenhague.[11] Of course, there were exceptions but, as the 19th century progressed, the general trend was toward the Climenhag-with-an-e spelling. I have included a genealogical table below to help keep track of who-is-who.

Descendants of Martin & Henry
This table includes two generations of the male descendants of Martin and Henry Junior. The a/e ending indicates these people fluctuated in their spelling. The names in red indicate their exclusive use of the Climenhaga spelling after the turn of the century. The red star indicates that Ben’s son Emerson and his descendants also used the Climenhaga spelling.

I should mention that, at least in my family, my last name is pronounced phonetically as Climb-men-hag, whereas Climenhaga is phonetically Climb-men-haig-ah. In the mid to late 1870s the spelling on some of the official records began to shift toward Climenhaig. For example, this spelling is found on the death registrations for sons Martin in 1876, and Henry in 1879.[12] This is true also for Martin’s son David, and grandson Peter Martin–the birth registrations for their children spell their surname as Climenhaig for the most part.[13] So, this new spelling is pronounced similarly to Climenhag-with-an-e.

The point that I want to convey is that by the 1850s the Climenhag-with-an-a spelling was already on the decline and almost non-existent by the 1870s. In fact, the ‘a’ spelling began to die out shortly after Henry’s children received their 100-acre parcel’s of land in 1825 as per their father’s will. As Henry’s surname in these documents is spelled Climenhagen or Clymenhagen, his children may have come to believe that the Climenhag-with-an-a spelling was incorrect.

As an aside, the dependence on documented spellings of the surname may also be the reason for the double-g spelling of Henry’s second youngest son Abraham Climenhegg. The land sale record for the parcel of land inherited by Abraham in 1825 spells his father’s last name as Clymenhaggen.[14] Prior to 1825 Abraham was spelling his last name as Glimanhaga. Henry’s youngest son, Moses Glimanhaga, left Bertie Township in 1828 and eventually relocated to the United States where he continued to use the Glimanhaga spelling.

So, although the Climenhag-with-an-a spelling had strongly taken root prior to 1825, by the latter part of the 19th century it was disappearing from the records.

Climenhag-with-an-a returns (with a vengeance!)

Years ago, while looking through the birth registration records for Ontario, Canada, I found something rather peculiar. In a handful of the birth records for the family of Peter Martin Climenhaga the surname, spelled Climenhaig, was crossed out and replaced with ‘Climinhaga’ printed in smaller lettering above. This was not a simple spelling mistake that had been corrected. These were systematic changes to a decade’s worth of one family’s birth records. Some examples are shown below.


For me, two questions came to mind: Who made these changes, and what were this person’s motivations? The first question is easily answered. It was Peter himself–the children’s ‘father’–that requested the corrections, as stated on the registration. This was possible due to changes in the Ontario Vital Statistics Act of 1927[15]:

(2) If the forms containing the original entry have been returned to the Registrar-General, the Registrar-General shall on evidence satisfactory to him correct the error in the margin of the form as well as in the indexed record thereof without altering the original entry, and shall note thereon the fact that the correction has been made and the date thereof. R.S.O. 1927, c. 78, s. 17.

As per this act, persons could now go back through the records to make changes or correct any earlier mistakes. Peter requested these corrections beginning in 1929 which is likely when he learned of the changes to the Vital Statistics Act. However, it is known that he began using the Climenhaga spelling just prior to the turn of the century.
The second question is not as easily answered. The decision to request these changes to his children’s official birth registration records wouldn’t have been done on a whim. Therefore, Peter must have been convinced that Climenhag-with-an-a was the true and correct spelling. But what evidence would have been so compelling? Perhaps Peter had found documented evidence. Could Peter have been in possession of of his great-grandfather’s land grant, land grant receipt, or both?

We can follow the progression of Henry’s personal possessions to some degree. In his Will Henry Climenhagen writes, “…I give and bequeath unto Barbery my beloved wife all my lands that I now posess and all my movables goods and chattels as long as she remains my wife…” It is assumed that Barbary died in 1825 which is when Henry’s five hundred acres of land were divided among his children. After her death it’s believed that Henry’s personal possessions passed to his eldest son Martin as Henry’s will stated also that son Martin was to receive”…the old

King George III seal. The seal was attatched to the original land grant in 1805 Photo: Trevor Climenhage
King George III seal. The seal was attached to the original land grant in 1805
Photo: Trevor Climenhage

dweling place with all the buildings and improvements…” In turn, in Martin Climenhaga’s Will he left all his personal possessions to his son David, “…[to] David Climenhage I also give and bequeath all my personal property of every kind and nature whatsoever.” It is likely that David also left a Will upon his death in 1913 but no copy of it has been found. Peter Martin Climenhaga was the eldest son of David and he is believed to have received some of Henry’s personal possessions, as did David’s youngest son Daniel. A descendant of Daniel’s is in possession of the wax seal (shown left) that accompanied the official land grant, and this person believes that the land grant itself passed to Peter Martin’s eldest son Solomon who, in turn, passed it on to his descendants. However, the location of the land grant is unknown at this time. Therefore, it is highly probable that Peter received some of his great-grandfather’s documents upon the death of his father, including documents with the Klimenhaga misspelling.

What’s more, in speaking with many descendants of Peter Martin Climenhaga, he was said to be quite adamant as to the correctness of the Climenhag-with-an-a spelling, as were many of his children. By the early part of the twentieth century Peter and his descendants began using the Climenhaga spelling exclusively. Peter’s younger brother Benjamin primarily used the Climenhag-with-an e spelling, and is evidenced on his grave marker. But, Peter may also have had a hand in convincing his nephew–Benjamin’s son Emerson–to use the Climenhaga spelling. Of Henry junior’s sons, only Abraham used the Climenhag-with-an-a spelling–he too may have been moved by Peter Martin’s strong conviction about the spelling.

In Sum

How did the Climenhag-with-an a spelling come about? My belief is that the Climenhaga spelling was the result of a clerical error–I have laid out the circumstantial evidence, and it will be up to others to decide if I have made my case convincingly. Although the Climenhaga spelling was prominent in the early part of the 19th century, after 1825 it began to be supplanted by the Climenhag-with an-e spelling. The records appear to indicate that Peter Martin Climenhaga, great-grandson of Henry Climenhagen, was the biggest proponent of the Climenhaga spelling to the degree that he requested changes to all of his children’s birth registration records.

What is most interesting from this research is the possibility that the Climenhaga spelling could have been lost to time had it not been for Peter Martin Climenhaga. Peter’s uncompromising belief about the true and correct nature of the Climenhag-with-an-a spelling may have singlehandedly saved it from becoming a historical footnote.

*This article is based on the “Is the Climenhaga spelling due to a clerical error?” post which appeared on the Climenhag* Project Facebook Group March 20th, 2014.

Footnotes    ((↵) returns to text)

  1. Upper Canada Land Petitions LAC “C” Bundle 3, Petition Number 80.(↵)
  2. E.G. Firth, “Russell, Peter,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 11, 2016,↵)
  3. J. Climenhage, What was the original family name?, 2012. Accessed at↵)
  4.; Notes and Queries: Medium of intercommunication for literary men, artists, antiquaries, genealogists, etc., second series, Vol. 8, July-December 1859, London, Bell & Daldy.(↵)
  5. A. Sonnenschein & J.S. Stallybrass, German for the English. London: David Nutt, 1857.(↵)
  6. Ontario Historical Society, Ontario History, Volumes 5-8. Ontario: Kraus Reprint Co., 1904 (pp 206-207). [Note: “By banns, Abraham Glimanhaga, of Willoughby, and Mary Simmerman, of Bertie, married in Stamford, the 22nd November, 1825;” “By banns, Henry Glimanhaga and Susan Bickard, of Bertie, married in Stamford, the 23nd January, 1826.”]; On 16 April 1838 (Reg 25 July 1839) Henry Glymenhaga sold to John Pickhart 50 acres in Lot 14 Concession 11 from the Niagara River, Bertie Twp. beginning at a post in front of Concession 11 for ₤100 (B255 #12597).(↵)
  7. 1828 Bertie Twp, Welland, LAC #MS-181 Reel 1. Accessed at OntarioGenWeb’s Census Project↵)
  8. Census of 1851 (Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia). Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. Accessed at↵)
  9. 1861 Census of Canada & 1871 Census of Canada, Library and Archives Canada. Accessed at; ttp://↵)
  10. 1861 Census of Canada, Library and Archives Canada. Accessed at↵)
  11. 1871 Census of Canada, Library and Archives Canada. Accessed at; 1881 Census of Canada, Library and Archives Canada; 1891 Census of Canada, Library and Archives Canada↵)
  12. Archives of Ontario. Registrations of Deaths, 1869-1934. MS 935, 496 reels. Archives of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Accessed at &h=1370687&ti=0&indiv=try&gss=pt.; &h=842490&ti=0&indiv=try&gss=pt.(↵)
  13. Registrations of Births and Stillbirths – 1869-1909. MS 929, 206 reels. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Archives of Ontario. Accessed at↵)
  14. On 6 Dec 1799 (Reg 18 Dec 1799) Parshall Terry et ux sold to Henry Clymanhaggen 300 acres in Lot 13 Concessions 9 & 10 & Lot 14 Concession 11 from the Niagara River, Bertie Twp. (A19 #157).(↵)
  15. Ontario (1937) “c 88 Vital Statistics Act,”Ontario: Revised Statutes: Vol. 1937: Iss. 1, Article 92. Available at:↵)
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3 Responses to CLIMENHAGA: Whence Comest Thou?

  1. James, this is an amazing piece of detective work! But this raises the question of why my last name is not Climinhaga (per the corrected official birth record), rather than Climenhaga. Any ideas what happened to the second “i”?

    • Hi Warren. Thanks for the message. I don’t have the answer but I can speculate. Peter Climenhaga began using the Climenhag-with-an-a spelling just before the turn of the century. In the birth registration records of his younger children the name is spelled as it is now. When the option to correct the records became available in 1927 Peter decided to correct the spelling of his older children’s birth registrations. However, he wouldn’t have been able to do it himself. A clerk would have had the task of finding the records and making the corrections. From this I can only assume the Clerk made an error. It’s also unlikely Peter ever saw the corrections. I can only imagine his reaction to learning that the ‘incorrect’ spelling was changed to another ‘incorrect’ spelling. It also serves to prove my point as to the ease with with the original error was made. If we only had these corrected records to go on your last name might very well be Climinhaga!

      • Thanks James – just noticed your response now. Makes sense! It does make me wonder what these birth registrations were used for officially speaking. For example, if these records would have been the basis for issuing a passport (as modern birth certificates are), then the error might have been more problematic. Hmm..

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