Ancestral Research Assistance – tips if you have Crail Ancestors


Back on 21 January 2012 when I was wandering round Crail Harbour taking the photographs above, the glorious January day held no echoes for me of a calamitous event which had happened in this very spot some 247 years before. In the mouth of the harbour, a ship was lost on the same day in 1765.

Fast forward a year or more, and some families who are undertaking family tree research around the world have happened upon some information linking descendants of one William Runciman who perished on that day.  The Runciman family got in touch with the VisitCrail blog to ask for assistance in tracing possible descendants of the 8 men who were lost when their ship sank.

Various members of the family have been working on their family tree for many years.  Indeed, the person who wrote to the VisitCrail blog told us that she had started her family tree research before the days of the Internet, when her tools to contact family members were a Roneo machine and some telephone directories!

On receipt of her email, I was interested to see what we could do to help her and her family find out about possible local connections as she plans to come to Crail in May 2015.  At that time, various descendants of the family are planning to commemorate the tragedy by meeting up in the village of Crail.

Here are some of the ideas we suggested:

  1. The Crail Museum –  contact: (they’re open from Easter – October usually and staffed by volunteers).  
  2. Crail History Society – we’ll try to find a contact
  3. Fife Family History Society –
  4. Crail Community Council – (find out more at: the local council meets monthly and are the keepers and distributors of the Crail Common Good Fund –  they might consider an application for a plaque or memorial, and in any event would have to be consulted about anything to do with the harbour.
  5. About Crail – the local community newspaper run by Peter Salkeld, (have now carried a story about this commemoration). 
  6. Local Press – may be interested in your story and willing to publish a “Human interest” story searching for connections.  ( – East Neuk Mail and St Andrews Citizen are the two most local papers.
  7. Crail Church – – that there was a project done by the local museum to document gravestones and information about the graveyard at the church.  Wonder if there are any memorials to the families involved in the shipwreck in the churchyard? [Update: looking for Plot #32 on Crail Cemetery plan – grave of William Runciman]
  8. Fisheries Museum in Anstruther – well worth a visit when you’re visiting Fife in Scotland
  9. There is a Lifeboat Station at Anstruther – perhaps this might be something to include in the family tour as you reflect on what would happen if there were a ship in trouble today
  10. Karen Nichols of Scotia Heritage ( provides a service where she will help with travel to places around Fife which would have been important to your family.
  11. There’s a book sold at the Crail Book Shop ( which I’ve checked for information about “your” shipwreck, but there is no mention, nor are the family names listed as being fisher folk names for Crail (there’s a reference to a book written by David Dobson ( called “The Mariners of St Andrews and the East Neuk of Fife 1600-1700” which lists names of families whose trade was fishing.  The only name in common with this list is Tailor /Taylor.)
  12. The other useful contact which you might like to know in advance of your visit is that of the Special Collections Division at the University of St Andrews –
  13. Crail Preservation Society – local interest and preservation of historical buildings. ( Found this in their records talking about an exhibition in 2010 in the local musuem.
“One, from the 1890s, is photographs taken by Erskine Beveridge. He took photographs all over Scotland and America but these are just of Crail where he spent a number of summers and stayed at Kirkmay House. Although his wealth came from linen mills in Dunfermline, he was a very talented amateur photographer. He was also the first person to use photography in recording graveyards and he did a very detailed survey of our graveyard and published the “Churchyard Memorials of Crail”. Members of CPS and the Museum repeated this survey a hundred years later and the results are in the Museum.”

I’ve started a Pinterest Board to store some of the ideas for genealogy research in the area, which you can see here. Hope it helps!

Do you have any further suggestions about local resources which might help these families trace descendants locally? Let us know by commenting on this post.

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