Caleb and I walked into the Sophienburg Museum in New Braunfels, TX around 1:30pm on Saturday Dec. 12. The Sophienburg houses one of the largest repositories of information that chronicles the German immigration movement to Texas (Wikipedia). We found our way there because I was looking for my Great-great-great grandfather’s rocking chair that my Grandmother told me was at a museum in New Braunfels, TX. What better place to start a search for an old rocking chair then at the Sophienburg Museum. What I found was a whole lot more.
The Sophienburg not only documents the journey of German colonists and Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels as they crossed the ocean and made their way into central Texas, it’s also where the Comal County Genealogy Society houses its entire research collection (Wikipedia).
Upon entering, we paid the admission to the museum and I inquired about the genealogy services they offered. The redheaded young girl at the desk asked what surname we were seeking information for and indicated she would ask the researcher if there was pertinent information available on that name before we paid the fee. I gave her “Alves”. She returned and told us that there was definitely information here on some Alves’s – lots of it. She suggested that we go look through the museum first because the docent on duty was having lunch. We obliged. Of course, we could go see the museum first. Heck yeah.
We returned to find an older (much older) woman behind the counter standing next to the very young girl. The older woman asked who we were looking for. I had to take a minute to login to my Ancestry.com account so I could give her the names of my Great-great-great-grandfather and Great-great grandfather. Gruffly she said she would definitely have some info on them so we might as well come into the archive room and sit down. She told us we were not allowed to roam around nor were we allowed to look at any documents on our own. Those are the rules! (because of course someone had stolen some very valuable documents). She wrote down the names Friedrich Alves, his date of birth, and date of death. Karl, “Charley” Alves, son of Friedrich, his dob and dod and took off on her search through the room. She came back with a red folder with handwritten lettering on the front naming who the archive was compiled for and who had compiled it. She also carried a few books back to the table at which we were sitting.
She told us to look through the folder and its documents to see if any of the information in it was pertinent to either of the names I had given her. I said I had never looked over documents like this and I really didn’t know how to figure out what I was looking at. Annoyed, she took the folder from me and began searching through the documents herself. As she was doing that she was also reading out loud and writing down names she was finding. She got up and left us to look through the folder while she did more looking. All the time, confirming names that she had read from the papers found in the red folder.
Returning to the table, this time with a very thick three ring binder, she began to flip through it looking for a specific page – again, all the while confirming names found in the red folder with names found in the three ring binder. “Ah Ha! Dear, you have hit the jackpot today! Your Great-great grandfather married Catharina Arnold.” I didn’t know what that meant but the older woman, La Verne, was very excited by this discovery. She had to explain to me how I was a direct descendent of one of the eight founding families of New Braunfels – the first immigrants who came here with Prince Carl to colonize in Central Texas. Catharina Arnold’s father, Johannes Arnold, was the patriarch of one of those families.
As we did more digging into my ancestors, she went away and came back with more red folders and more books. Big books. Big green books – Volumes I and II! And she began telling stories. Stories about all of these families and how they were related to me, who they were, what they did, personal stories about her interactions with them in school. Delightful stories.
My Great-grandmother, married to Edmond Alves, was a Karbach, also from New Braunfels. La Verne went to school with the Karbachs. The Karbachs were Methodist and they built the first Methodist church in New Braunfels. That church was turned into a barn at some point and a new Methodist Church was built but Ida’s family built the first one in town.
I made La Verne’s day, she told me. She said, “Girl, you have to move back here. You’re related to half of the town and you’re related to some of the nicest families here. You could come here and throw a family reunion, invite just your relatives and you’d have one heck of turnout!”
After many more stories, photo copies, two books (ok volumes) of my own and hugs, Caleb and I were off to the cemetery to find the gravestones of Friedrich and Caroline Alves and “Charley” Alves and Catharina (we found out that Charley was the Mayor of New Braunfels from 1918-1922).
Did I mention it was raining? Yes, a rainy Saturday afternoon and we find ourselves at the Comal Cemetery just before 5 p.m. We had information about where we might find their graves but we didn’t have a map of the cemetery. La Verne told us where to start looking, in the older section on the corner of Peace Ave and E. Common. So there is where we started looking for our very own needle in a haystack. It didn’t take Caleb very long to find Karl and Catharina’s gravestone. In the Alves way, our name was proudly displayed.
It took us much longer to find Friedrich and Caroline. In fact, we had given up. It was 5:30 p.m., dark had begun to settle in, and it was still raining and I was getting cold. Caleb made one more attempt and found “Find-a-grave” website. He plugged in what we were looking for and up came a photo of the gravestone. An obelisk! A very unique obelisk with a wrought iron fence with floral points on the posts and a gate around it. That should be easy to find! It was not! It continued to elude us until a small group of deer – several adult bucks and does with several still-spotted young deer came into the cemetery. I was watching them and it was as if they were telling me to follow them. They crossed the cemetery to an area we had not explored and stopped right in front of an obelisk with a wrought iron fence around it! Friedrich and Caroline’s resting place was tucked in the back of the cemetery under a very old and twisted Juniper tree surrounded by a rusted wrought iron fence with gate and an obelisk.
Thank you Friedrich and Caroline for making the journey to America. Thank you for wanting to start a new life across the sea. That great adventure and the leap of faith you both took made my life possible. I am so grateful to both of you. I must get my thirst for new experiences and my passion for adventure and travel from the two of you, as well as my love for shoes! You see my Great-great-great grandfather was a cobbler.
This is not the trunk he crossed the Atlantic with but it could have been. I never found the rocking chair my Grandmother spoke of, but I found a lot more. My roots. At least the start of my roots here in America as well as a whole lot of relatives that I will spend another day looking for.