By Myra Lee Adams Goff
A very important agreement has been reached between the Sophienburg Museum and Archives and First Protestant Church, one of extreme historic significance. The church will allow the Sophienburg to copy all early church records, including minutes, birth records, death records, and many more papers of significance.
The First Protestant Church has been the caretaker of the earliest records of New Braunfels. All original records will remain stored in a vault at the church. This will allow individuals to do family research at the Sophienburg using all their resources. The project is estimated to take two years.
One of the promises that Prince Carl made on behalf of the Adelsverein was that the religious needs of the emigrants would be addressed. When the Prince was on the Texas coast in 1844, he met Rev. Louis Ervendberg who was preaching at Cat Springs, Industry, Blumenthal, and other small settlements going from one to another. The Prince offered Ervendberg the job of being the pastor for all the first emigrants and to then minister to the Protestants. Prince Carl was unable to secure a priest immediately, so the first Catholic Mass was celebrated under an oak tree on March, 1846, on the site where Sts. Peter and Paul church now stands. The site was given to the church by the Adelsverein in November of 1846.
When the first emigrants arrived on the coast, Ervendberg greeted them and on December 23, 1844, he conducted the first religious service there. He then accompanied them as they made their way to what would later be called New Braunfels.
Upon arrival inland, Ervendberg established the German Protestant Church (now First Protestant Church) whose first official meeting was October 5, 1845. Established while Texas was the Republic of Texas, it is the oldest corporation in New Braunfels. The church has that original charter.
In order to construct what came to be known as the log church, all members who were able were asked to bring hand-cut cedar logs. The floors would be of caliche and clay. The Adelsverein would finance the building. This original church and the original Sophienburg building on the hill were the only buildings in New Braunfels that were financed by the Adelsverein.
In 1879 the church decided to tear down the log church and build a stone building. The logs of this old church were bought by a church member at that time to be used to build a barn. So it remained for many years until recently the barn was purchased and stored temporarily, waiting for the right time to reconstruct it properly. The Heritage Society has taken on the project of reconstruction.
Rev. Ervendberg was originally responsible for the hand-written records. These records, written in German (Fraktur) contain church minutes, birth and death records. The third pastor, Rev. August Schuchard, elected in 1858, began a 19 year pastorage in which his long-term plan was to complete a compilation of a family register of church members, plus all members of the community. He began compiling this three volume register in the spring of 1859 and when he died in 1876, he had recorded 539 families, including approximately 20,000 individual births and baptisms. (Source: “Journey in Faith” by Rosemarie Leissner Gregory and Myra Lee Adams Goff. This book is available at the Sophienburg and First Protestant Church)
In First Protestant’s collection are the original hand-written German records, the transcribed typewritten records, and the translated typewritten records. These records were mostly transcribed and translated by Gene Mornhinweg, son of long time pastor, Gottleib Mornhinweg. Historian Oscar Haas has added to the original records.
The project of copying the records will be time-consuming but when complete, all people will have easy access to them at the Sophienburg. This is a real step forward in family research and something to look forward to.