Brian Leese’s 1972 Letter to Ila Maughan

Brian Leese’s logic began with an assumption that the original recorder meant to write “James, child of James McDonald” when he wrote, “Jane child of James McDonald”.   He said, “The register did NOT state daughter.  It reads “Jane child of James Mc.Donald.”   He provided no film or file number so considerable searching was necessary by Mary Ann McDonald to locate the original which she discovered to be PRONI mic 583/10 Blaris Church of Ireland Marriages 1690-1720 + 1735-9.

This is a hand written copy of the Blaris parish register by Mary Ann McDonald when she was in Belfast.  It does not say “Jane child of James McDonald.  There is a clear “D” (for daughter) and the sons are clearly and consistently marked with an “s”(for son).  Brian Leese either never actually viewed the Blaris parish document or intentionally misquoted the parish register to mislead his clients.  Thus his proposed “link” to a Maxwell pedigree that extended back multiple generations is not there.  There is no document linking Moses McDonald to another Moses whose father was James.  Brian Leese’s “opinion” that the record saying Jane meant to say James son of James McDonald demonstrates how inaccurate, if not actually deceptive, Brian Leese’s research reports were.

The next undocumented premise of Brian Leese was that an Aeneas McDonald was the father of James and our ancestor.  He then proposed that the connection between “our Aeneas” and the main stem of the Earls of Antrim may be found in Glenarm Castle.  Forty years ago Ila Maughan didn’t have the Internet and couldn’t click on the above link to Glenarm Castle history to see the inconsistencies of Brian Leese’s proposal.  Glenarm was the residence of The 14th Earl of Antrim in 1972.  It is not likely Brian Leese could obtain permission to “search” the Earl’s residence.   Even if he had permission he didn’t seem to know Glenarm castle had been destroyed by fire twice since the 17th century and was extremely unlikely to have rent records or documents pertaining to our 17th century ancestors.   Page two of his letter is a hand copied pedigree of the Earls of Antrim right out of a 1904 published history of Clan Donald which is currently available at the LDS Family History Library (but was not yet available in 1972).  All three volumes are now available on line.  They are The Clan Donald Vol. I,  Vol. II, and  Vol. III.

There never was a need to search Glenarm castle, which in 1972 was the residence of Alexander, 14th Earl of Antrim.  His ancestors were granted the right to take the name McDonnel and the title of Earl of Antrim because there were no surviving male heirs.  Brian Leese promised a fairy tale, complete with castle, if compensated for his “great search” of Glenarm castle for records he had available in a published Clan history.

 Other family organizations that hired Brian Leese discovered the liberties he took when citing from documents he knew had not yet been microfilmed by the LDS Church.  When the originals became available the information Brian Leese stated was part of the document simply wasn’t there.   The  Rootsweb site for the Waldensian research warned, “…others did competent work and you shouldn’t discard their results; yet at the same time, you must not accept work by this man unless you personally view the microfilmed original records and they agree with the family group records produced from his reports. Family group records produced from his research give a statement something like this for the source of information: “research in the notarial records by Brian Leese, predating the parish registers.” Information on such a family group record is *NOT* reliable.” 

Dr. Neil Thompson, attorney, professional genealogist, editor of  The Genealogist and fellow of the American Society of Genealogists specializing in British and Colonial American research had this to say about Brian Leese. “Had he confined his penchant for genealogical romance to his own pedigree he would have been merely pathetic. It is unfortunate that armed with very considerable personal charm and ability with the written and spoken word, he was able to persuade hundreds of people that he or his representatives could solve genealogical problems for them in the British Isles, Italy, and even South America. Almost always these solutions have turned out to be false and misleading, requiring thousands of hours to unmask and correct.”

The problem with Brian Leese’s accounting of his research is his failure to give specific source references.   He would cite “Lisburn Par Regs. (Lisburn & Blaris Parish)” without providing a specific film number or Public Record Of Northern Ireland (PRONI) file number.  His failure to cite a specific source has caused many family members countless hours searching the entire record at an LDS FHL or travel to PRONI archives in Belfast.  It does appear we need to prune these undocumented branches from our family tree and graft in new, documented  branches.  In some cases we need to take another look at  other documented research previously discarded in favor of Brian Leese’s research.