William Runciman
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William Runciman (1729 - 1765)

William Runciman aka Runsheman, Runsyman, Rynsiman
Born in Whaupknow, Parish of Tyninghame, Haddingtonshire, Scotlandmap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of — married 12 Dec 1748 in Crail, , Fife, Scotlandmap
Husband of — married 30 Dec 1754 in Crail, , Fife, Scotlandmap
Descendants descendants
Died at age 35 in Crail, Fife, Scotlandmap
Problems/Questions Profile managers: Alan Runciman private message [send private message] and Stuart Wilson private message [send private message]
Profile last modified | Created 30 Aug 2013
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This biography was part auto-generated by a GEDCOM import, supplemented with research by Alan Runciman, a 4th great grandson.


Name: William /Runciman/ [1][2][3][4][5][6]

Often referred to as 'William of Crail', the sobriquet is not a 'noble' or official title of any sort. It merely offers a shorthand ID of an individual who for so long was regarded as patriarch of a recognised Runciman DNA line [A] , derived in a time when little else other than William’s place of death (Crail) was known about him.

The eventual discovery in 2012 of his father's name revealed William had several siblings born & living in Haddingtonshire through his father Richard and beyond to William's grandfather, who was also a William, with no historical family connection to Crail (or Fife). The Crail sobriquet remains for convenience.


Date: On or before 23 March 1729 (the date of his christening).

Tynninghame's Parish Records show baptism dates, but don't also record dates of birth which in William's case was 23 March 1729. The day of his christening was a Wednesday. All christenings recorded on the same page of the Register are also Wednesday dates, with one Tuesday exception. Surely Wednesday was the selected day for mid-week services and the evidence from this page suggests this was the (only) day that the minister undertook baptisms. William’s birth was probably in the previous 7 days. Parents went to extreme lengths to ensure the child was baptised at the earliest opportunity, usually determined that it should occur in church even though home christenings were offered in severe weathers. This practise contributed to the high infant mortality rates of the time.

Place: Whaupknow, Parish of Tynninghame, Haddingtonshire, Scotland[7]

Whaupknow was a cluster of cottages provided by Auldham Farm for workers. The latest reference to it in local parish records appears in the 1770s at which time the cottages, & the name, fell victim to the construction of Seacliff House & associated development following a change of landlord. Read what life was like for the family at Whaupknow here.


Date: 23 March 1729
Place: Tynninghame, Haddingtonshire, Scotland[8].
Witnesses: James Williamson in Scohohgal (Scoughal) and James Barrie in Muttonholl (Muttonhole). Neither are obvious relatives. Scoughal is a neighbouring farm within the same ownership as Auldhame and Muttonhole is a neighbouring 'fermtoun' community. Scoughal remains a working farm to this day whereas there is nothing left of the Muttonhole location. It lies at an empty corner of a field opposite West Lodge. Presumably both witnesses are farm labourers, possible workmates and obviously good friends. William's son John is later to marry a Jean Barrie. She could be a relative (grand-daughter/grand-niece?) of the witness to William's birth but there is no successful researched evidence that this is so.

Today the parish church - known as St Baldred's - is a roofless ruin lying within the grounds of Tyninghame House which until 1987 was the home of the Earls of Haddington since their purchase in the 1600s. Tyninghame & Whitekirk were two separate parishes until 1760 when, on the closure of Tyninghame’s church (St Baldred's), the parishes were merged together to form one congregation worshipping at Whitekirk. Only then did the parish become known as Whitekirk & Tyninghame.

The following website extract from the website [9] details the church's earliest known existence: The early church of Tyninghame, and the lands belonging to it, is recorded as being within the diocese of Lindesfarne. Anlaf (or Onlaf) burnt and laid waste to St Baldred’s Church in the year 941. It is unclear when the first church was actually built, and physical evidence for the early religious community is scarce, but part of a late-9th century cross was found in the 1930s built into the 12th-century tower base.

Interestingly, the church recorded father Richard's surname as 'Runciman' which would possibly make it, if not the first, one of the earliest recordings of what is now the prevalent spelling.

To give an indication of the small size of the Tynninghame Parish community there were only 9 baptisms on the page containing William's entry, covering a period from January 1st to its last entry on 14th September.

Boyhood Home & Family

William lived his boyhood years where he was born, in Whaupknow in the parish of Tyninghame. He was the eldest of nine children, the youngest of whom (Renay/Rennie) was born in December 1746 when William was 17. All his siblings, including Renay, were born in Whaupknow & baptised in Tyninghame Church which is what informs us that William lived his childhood through to independent adulthood in his birthplace. In General Roy’s Military Map of Scotland [B], Whaupknow is depicted as 4 separate buildings. Whether this was an accurate graphic is not clear but it was certainly a cluster of farm cottages. There is no record to indicate whether father Richard was a farm tenant, sub-tenant or labourer or indeed a self-employed agricultural worker, such as a mason, thatcher etc. However the cottages belonged to Aldhame Farm & the most plausible conclusion is that he was a farm labourer there.


William married twice. How William & first wife Catharine Wishart met is not known but as she was the daughter of an Isle of May fisherman it's easy to conclude it was through his work. There was always social interaction between the fishermen of the North Berwick coast and those in Fife and many a romance blossomed between the local fishermen and the womenfolk who followed the men's boats to carry out the landside jobs & repairs. Perhaps William got to know John Wishart then his daughter Catharine or perhaps it was the other way about. Indeed as a youth pre-marriage, it's not impossible William may have worked for John, learned the trade etc.

He lost both wives at an early age. His first was possibly as a result of a complication of childbirth of their 3rd child. His second wife died only 6 months after delivering his only son. William also had a relationship with a 3rd woman, Patricia Stephen, with whom he had a daughter.

1st Marriage (recorded in Crail Parish Church Register of Marriages) :
Date: 12 December 1748 [C]
Place: Crail, Fife, Scotland.

Given the custom of the time to marry in the bride's home possibly this would take place on the Isle of May, in the parish of Crail, as Katharine's father John Wishart lived there.

Note: Contracts for Nov 30th 1748 show "William Runciman & Catharine Wishart married 12th Decbr"[10][11][12][13]
Husband: William Runciman
Wife: Catherine Wishart
Child: Janet Runsiman survived at least to aged 16
Child: Catherine Runciman died as a child
Child: Catherine Runciman died as a child
2nd Marriage (recorded in Crail Parish Church Register of Marriages) :
Date: 30 December 1754
Place: Crail, Fife, Scotland
Note: "Contracts" entry for Dec 14th reads: "William Runsyman & Eliz. Jamison married Decr 30th"[14][15][16][17][18][19]
Husband: William Runciman
Wife: Elizabeth Jamieson
Child: Margaret Runsyman aged 9 when father drowned
Child: Elizabeth Runsyman survived to adulthood
Child: Helen Runsyman survived to adulthood
Child: John Runciman survived to adulthood

Disputed Paternity

According to Crail Parish Kirk Session records of December 1764 William would not take with a daughter of Patricia Stephen baptised as Mary Runsyman. Unfortunately William drowned so soon after this that there was no time for a future pattern (eg marriage?) to emerge. Mary was known by the name of Runciman all her life (a Mary Runciman is recorded in 1841 census, Crail, aged 75 which is the correct age for the 'disputed' Mary). She was also supported financially, as William's other young children were, by the Widows & Childrens Fund following the drowning, . Runciman-362 15:34, 13 May 2014 (EDT).

There is a Runciman/Stephen marriage in late 1600s North Berwick, perhaps a co-incidence of surnames, but also poses the possibility that there is a family connection between William & Patricia. If so, the relationship cannot be closer than 2nd cousins - and maybe more distant - as William's Runciman grandparents are known.


Growing up in Whaupknow William lived less than a half-mile from the North Sea. Even today fishermen leave William's home patch to fish the Isle of May area off Crail. Additionally North Berwick was only about 4 miles distant where there was an active fishing harbour and trade was brisk with the Fife ports.

William chose to live his adult life in the parish of Crail. An initial factor is Katharine Wishart's family background. Wisharts had lived for generations on the Isle of May. Those who lived on 'the May', as it is referred to locally, were mainly fishing families. Certainly it's known the couple were living there in 1752, as their tragically young 2nd child Catharine is recorded as ‘of the Isle of May’ on her burial record and in 1753 'William Runciman on the May and his spouse Catharine Wishart'[20] had their 3rd child Catharine baptised. This may indicate that through Katharine or her father John that a fisherman's cottage was available to the young couple and they lived there possibly from the date of their marriage.

As a mariner a further attraction was probably the abundant fishing waters around the Isle of May combined with the fact that in the 1700s Crail held one of the leading daily/weekly markets, its Sunday market being one of the busiest in Europe.

From that point in his life William clearly lived in Crail parish. All his children are baptised in Crail Church and his second marriage was also in Crail. (His first wife Catherine had died following the birth of their 3rd child).

We learn that he owned a house in Crail at the time of his death, as the records of the Widows & Orphans Fund refer to his orphans receiving a rental income from it. The annual rental received was 15 shillings (now decimalised as 75p). Unfortunately no address is recorded for it. There are fishermen's cottages built in the 1730s close to the harbour, so possibly there, but these were insufficient to accommodate all those who made their living from the sea.


Occupation: He is described as a Mariner[21] in Crail records, the term at the time for a seagoing fisherman.

His living would be very hard and hazardous but rewarding by the standards of the day. The evidence pointing to this is that, unusually for the time, he was able to afford to bury his wives and young daughter complete with an engraved headstone, own his home and skipper his own fishing boat, large enough to require a crew of 8. He appears to have been a respected member of the FisherBox in Crail. This is a Society with a separate identity from the SeaBox.

The Seabox was contributed to by crew members and was an early form of Union in that by contributing to it the fisherman was supported by it in times of hardship or disaster. The SeaBox paid for the funerals of the 4 members of William's crew who contributed to it.

The FisherBox (more research required) appears to be a Society for the owners of the boats. Perhaps it may be also an early form of co-operative for buying and selling on of the day's catch? (This fact will be researchable). I have read some of the old FisherBox records pre-1765 (held at Crail Museum & Heritage Centre) when William was a member and there are instances of him examining and signing off a financial statement for the Society. To be in such a position he would have been trusted and respected by his peers and obviously able to read & write & understand arithmetic to the extent that he could make critical sense of the account book.


Date: 21 JAN 1765
Place: Crail, , Fife, Scotland
Note: from the parish register - aged 35. c.o.d. 'died in the mouth of the harbour', drowned with 7 others in the 1765 Crail Fishing Disaster.

A 250th anniversary commemoration for the drownings was held in Crail on 16 May 2015. See the Crail Fishing Disaster page for the known history and further information.


Place: A record has not been found to confirm where William's body lies although it is unlikely to be anywhere other than in the Parish churchyard, Crail, Fife, Scotland in the grave with his wives and two infant children who predeceased him. Refer to Research Notes below.

In the presence of 50 or so descendants a tablet was laid on the 250th anniversary year of his drowning (2015) in commemoration. It also provides practical support for the original 1750s gravestone which was in danger of falling over.

The headstone at Crail Churchyard laid by William on the loss of his daughter & wife in 1750s. The supporting tablet was laid by descendants on the 250th anniversary commemoration of his death.
Original Engraved Wording/Erskine Beveridge Comments:

Wm Runsheman mariner here, w Catharine Wishart 24.7.1753 31, 2da Catharine 15.7.1752 1, 2w Eliz Jameson 24.1.1763 34 (see Beveridge 32 254 [Erskine Beveridge Churchyard Memorials of Crail ]; Wm Runsyman on the May & w Cath Wishart married 12.12.1743[22]da Cath b. .8.1751, da Cath b. 15.7.1753; Wm Runsheman & w Eliz Jamieson married 30.12.1754, at least 3 chn 1755-62; he was drowned when going fishing 21.1.1765.[23] [24][25][26]


William belongs to a DNA tested line. Designated as 'Lineage 1b William Runciman of Crail', so called as at the time testing first took place William was the furthest back researched ancestor & therefore the patriarch of the line. Click here for further information[27]

Associated Profiles

There are 3 other Runciman 'lineages' which thanks to DNA testing are now discovered to be branches of the same lineage with a Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) in the 1600s, most likely in East Lothian or the Scottish Borders. Lorna Henderson manages a One Name Study which gives a good insight to our Crail Line's relationship to the other DNA-related lines - as well as the non-related lines. (there's a glitch with link-manually search for website runciman.lornahen.com)

Wiki profiles relating to the Crail Lineage:

Runciman Lineage 1b-The Early Generations As the name implies this Profile covers the latest research known of the earliest ancestors on the 'Crail' Line.

Crail Fishing Disaster About the 1765 Crail Fishing Disaster in which William of Crail drowned with 7 others. A 250th anniversary commemoration for the drownings was held in Crail on 16 May 2015.

Scotland and Beyond In 2004 a family history of the William Runciman of Crail line was published. The latest research & continuing updates are now displayed on WikiTree & several other online genealogy sites rather than in print. As Scotland and Beyond has been out of print for some time Jen Jelley & Diane Middleton, compilers & publishers of the 2004 book, originally had kindly agreed to make their publication available in PDF format. But increasing sensitivity over personal security halted that intention. This link provides further information from which it's possible to email a specific query about an ancestor.

The Runciman Cradle Tour provides the reader interested in seeing some of our ancestral locations with a suggested itinerary and their association to the family.

Similarily there is a Crail Trail for those who wish to visit where William of Crail spent his married/working life and eventually met his early death from drowning.

Whaupknow is about Life & Circumstances in the 1700s at the earliest known specific birthplace on Lineage 1b. Richard Runciman & Jennet Gourlay lived the most part of their married life here & is the birthplace of their son William of Crail & his 8 brothers & sisters.


[A] Lineage 1b 'William Runciman of Crail' in the Runciman DNA project. More information about Runciman lineages is at http://runciman.lornahen.com/cpdescendantcharts.htm

[B] General Roy’s Military Map of Scotland was drawn up in the years around 1750, shortly after the 2nd Jacobite Rebellion as a precaution so that Government forces understood ‘the lie of the land’ for future skirmishes.

[C] The reference by Erskine Beveridge that the couple married in 1743, quotes the same date as the date in 1748, 12th December. There is no entry in the parish records at such a date (there is for 1748) & the coincidence of it being 12th December leads to the conclusion that, on transcribing the record, the year 1748 was misread or more probably had its '8' partly weathered & worn leaving what looked like a '3'. William was born in 1729 which would make him 14 in 1743.

Research Notes

Fermtoun: A background on agricultural cottages & fermtouns:Fermtouns
William's burial: Until 2015 or so it was conjectured that perhaps he and his fellow fishermen lay at rest where his boat sank. However deeper reading of the 1765 Disaster records revealed that father Richard met the cost of William's burial & was reimbursed by the Fund - but unfortunately there is no confirmation of where. Logically it will be in Crail churchyard. W is not mentioned as buried on the headstone in Crail Churchyard at the grave of his two wives and 2nd daughter Catherine. (His other children lived their adult lives in the parish of North Berwick and are not buried in Crail.) A reading of Erskine Beveridge's authoritative 'Churchyard Memorials in Crail' (published 1894) indicates that none of the names of other victims appear on headstones in the churchyard either. However in William’s case with a lair paid for and family members already buried there it seems unlikely that he would have been buried anywhere other than in the family grave. The other victims do not appear to have family graves so their circumstances may have been different, leading to the possibility of the Fund paying for paupers' burials only. A pauper’s burial, in ground set aside in the churchyard for such a purpose, did not provide a coffin, never mind an engraved stone, so this would account for Beveridge not making any record of them in his 1894 book. Although the Crail Churchyard theory is very satisfactory an alternative but much weaker explanation for William is that he was buried in North Berwick parish's churchyard where his father Richard then lived (William's parents were married in NB in 1728). Further evidence of the burial was not uncovered from the archived records of Crail (held at St Andrews University) or North Berwick and it's fair to discount this alternative.


  • Source: S101 Title: OPR Fife Scotlands People RUNCIMAN Marriages 1538-1854 (Index ) Repository: #R146
  • Repository: R146 Name: Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/) Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland
  • Source: S102 Title: OPR East Lothian, Scotland RUNCIMAN Births 1538-1854 (Index ) http://scotlandspeople.gov.uk Repository: #R146
  • Source: S103 Title: OPR East Lothian Scotlands People RUNCIMAN Marriages (Index ) Repository: #R146
  • Source: S1045 Title: RUNCIMAN Correspondence H.D.W., Edinburgh, Scotland Recipient: L Henderson
  • Source: S15 Title: RUNCIMAN (& variants) Surname DNA Project
  • Source: S1596 Title: IGI: Online searches Repository: #R149
  • Repository: R149 Name: Family Search (LDS) Utah USA http://familysearch.org
  • Source: S2562 Title: RUNCIMAN Corres., Address: NSW, AUS
  • Source: S3221 Title: EM RUNCIMAN/WISHART/JAMIESON ex Phyllis RUNCIMAN, (SCT)
  • Source: S3222 Title: "Scotland and Beyond" (2004) Authors: Diane Middleton Jen Jelley; plus subsequent research by Alan RUNCIMAN, Ros RUNCIMAN, Lawrence FLETCHER, Lorna HENDERSON & many, many others, Compilers Addresses: UK, Australia and New Zealand
  • Source: S3233 Title: Old Parish Record (OPR)
  • Source: S3235 Title: Scotland and Beyond, published 2004 Authors: Jennifer Jelley and Diane Middleton
  • Source: S3237 Title: Henderson Web Site, Url: http://runciman.lornahen.com Author: Lorna Henderson Also on MyHeritage.com family tree
  • Source: S4 Title: RUNCIMAN Conclusions, Author: Lorna Henderson Runciman One Name Study Repository: #R156
  • Repository: R156 Name: RUNCIMAN One Name Study Project Diary
  • Source: S55 Title: Scottish Birth, Marriage, Burial entries (to 1854) http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/index.php
  1. Source: #S4 Page: Apr 2010
  2. Source: #S2562 Page: Birth 22 Jun 1762 John s/o William RUNCIMAN & Elizabeth JAMIESON, Crail, FIF, from Outline family tree from William & Catherine (WISHART) RUNCIMAN, and emails, rcvd Jan 2010
  3. Source: #S2562 Page: Birth (Crail) Dth 1765 (mouth of harbour) William RUNCIMAN, from Outline family tree from William & Catherine (WISHART) RUNCIMAN, and emails, rcvd Jan 2010
  4. Source: #S3221 Page: Pay-outs to the widows and children of the Crail fishermen drowned on 21st January 1765, from GD/26/12/25 held National Archives of Scotland (NAS), transcr. by Phyllis rcvd Nov 2012
  5. Source: #S3235
  6. Source: #S3237 Page: William Runciman 26 MAY 2011 Added by confirming a Smart Match
  7. Source: #S102 Page: Birth/bap.? 23 Mar 1729 William s/o Richard RUNCIMAN & Jennet GOURLAY, Whitekirk & Tynninghame, 723/ 0010 0071, extracted from index Feb 2010
  8. Source: #S102 Page: Birth/bap.? 23 Mar 1729 William s/o Richard RUNCIMAN & Jennet GOURLAY, Whitekirk & Tynninghame, 723/ 0010 0071, extracted from index Feb 2010
  9. www.crsbi.ac.uk
  10. Source: #S2562 Page: Marr. 1748 William RUNCIMAN & Catherine WISHART, from Outline family tree from William & Catherine (WISHART) RUNCIMAN, and emails, rcvd Jan 2010
  11. Source: #S55 Contract 30 Nov Marr. 12 Dec 1748 William RUNCIMAN & Catharine WISHART, Crail, FIF, 417/0020 0017, copy rcvd (from Lawrence F) Feb 2010
  12. Source: #S101 Marr. 1748 RUNCIMAN/WISHART, Crail, 417/0040 0480 (30 Nov) 417/0020 0017 (12 Dec), extracted from index Jan 2010
  13. Source: #S3222 Marr. 30 Nov 1748 William RUNCIMAN & Catherine WISHART (b. 1721 d. 24 Jul 1753), Crail, Fife, Pg 3
  14. Source: #S2562 Marr. 1754 William RUNCIMAN & Elizabeth JAMIESON, from Outline family tree from William & Catherine (WISHART) RUNCIMAN, and emails, rcvd Jan 2010
  15. Source: #S1045 H/stone (& info) William RUNSHEMAN/RUNSYMAN and family, Crail, FIF, from pre 1855 transcriptions, rcvd Jan 2010
  16. Source: #S1596 Marr. 30 Dec 1754 William RUNSHEMAN & Elizabeth JAMESON, Isle of May, Crail, Fife, post 1991 patron submission, extracted Jan 2010
  17. Source: #S55 Marr. 30 Dec 1754 (also indexed for 12 Dec) William RUNSYMAN & Elizabeth JAMIESON, Crail, Fife, Scotland 417/0020 0084, index searched (and copy d/loaded) Jan 2010
  18. Source: #S3233 Page: Marr. 1754 William RUNCIMAN & ElizabethJAMIESON, Crail-417/00 0020 0084
  19. Source: #S3222 Marr. 30 Dec 1754 William RUNCIMAN & Elizabeth JAMESON, Crail, Fife, Pg 3
  20. Scotland's People Filing Reference Baptisms Crail 417/00/0020/0066
  21. Source: #S3222
  22. '1743' is an obvious error of transcription. The couple are recorded marrying on 12 December 1748 and no such entry exists for the same date in 1743.
  23. Source: #S1045 H/stone (& info) William RUNSHEMAN/RUNSYMAN and family, Crail, FIF, from pre 1855 transcriptions, rcvd Jan 2010
  24. Source: #S3222
  25. Source: #S1045 H/stone (& info) William RUNSHEMAN/RUNSYMAN and family, Crail, FIF, from pre 1855 transcriptions, rcvd Jan 2010
  26. Source: #S2562 Birth (Crail) Dth 1765 (mouth of harbour) William RUNCIMAN, from Outline family tree from William & Catherine (WISHART) RUNCIMAN, and emails, rcvd Jan 2010
  27. Source: #S15 Page: Jan 2012


Thank you to Alan Runciman for creating WikiTree profile Runciman-565 through the import of RUNCIMANAlansPaternal4WikiTreeAug2013.ged on Aug 29, 2013.

Thank you to Stuart Wilson for merging WikiTree profile Runciman-810 after the import of Family_2013-10-07.ged on Oct 7, 2013. Click to the Changes page for the details of edits.

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DNA Connections
It may be possible to confirm family relationships with William by comparing test results with other carriers of his Y-chromosome or his mother's mitochondrial DNA. Y-chromosome DNA test-takers in his direct paternal line on WikiTree: It is likely that these autosomal DNA test-takers will share some percentage of DNA with William:

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