The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (Essay)

As I was waiting for a file to be pulled in the Texas Archives, I decided to peruse one of the finding aids on the shelves. Imagine my delight and surprise to find a listing for my husband’s 3rd great grandfather’s surname! At that time, I knew a little about my husband’s 3rd great grandfather, William Oliphant. He was born in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland, and came to the United States in 1833. He and his family traveled from Indiana in 1852 to move to a warmer climate. The family settled in Austin, Texas, instead of Houston because of the dread of yellow fever in the Houston area.  Oliphant eventually acquired the land on which the Driskill Hotel now stands on 6th Street in Downtown Austin and built a two-story brick building which housed his jewelry store and (later) a photography store for his son, William James.

But what I found in the archives was so much more than just family facts—there were boxes and boxes of family memorabilia! We had moved to Austin in 1985 and had little information on the family, much less any early personal items. Included in the boxes were items as small as a grocery list to invaluable original letters written from family members, some as far away as Pennsylvania. There was even a funeral notice for the elder William’s wife, Jane Eliza Van Zile after her death in 1867. These items gave me many clues regarding family connections that I had previously not had any knowledge. You cannot find this personal type of information in a book, official government document, or on the Internet.

Perhaps the most interesting article in one of the boxes was a handwritten account by William’s son, William James Oliphant, regarding his time as a young Confederate soldier during the war and as a prisoner of war. It was handwritten in pencil and was many pages. This manuscript contained a great deal of personal family information, such as when one of his aunts who lived at Green Castle, Indiana, sent him some clothing and a blanket on his nineteenth birthday to use in his freezing prison at Camp Chase in Ohio. I am happy to report that William survived the war. He returned to Austin to become a photographer and, despite his war injuries, lived a long life. 

The Texas Archives contains many, many invaluable documents. However, having a peek at the personal side of my husband’s family is a treasure that will be cherished and remembered for many years by our family.



Texas State Archives Editorial Note:
The William Bradford Bugg and Mildred Webb Bugg Collection and the Walter Prescott Webb and Family materials were donated to the Texas State Archives by William Bradford Bugg and Mildred Webb Bugg, daughter of historian Walter Prescott Webb and his wife Jane Elizabeth Oliphant Webb (who was the daughter of William James Oliphant). The essay author, Mrs. Purdue, met Mildred Webb Bugg before her death; however, Mrs. Bugg didn’t mention the donation to the Archives. Thus, it was a complete surprise to the writer to find the family collection at the Archives.