Our View: An interesting discovery about a prominent Modesto family

October 2, 2013 

McHenry Mansion 5

Robert McHenry

UNKNOWN — Unknown

Almost everyone who dives into genealogy finds a surprise – an ancestor who was famous or notorious or connected to another person or event of note.

There may be no other family in Modesto history that has been written about more than the McHenrys. And yet, there was a big surprise there, too.

Janet Lancaster, a remarkably persistent and curious volunteer docent for the McHenry Museum, started delving into the background of Robert McHenry and found that, well, he wasn’t really Robert McHenry. As our local columnist Jeff Jardine explained in an article on Sunday’s front page, one of the premier businessmen of our community was really Robert Henry Brewster, a man who modified his middle name and started life anew after deserting his Ohio Army regiment when it was dispatched to fight in the Mexican War.

There are several remarkable elements to this story, starting with the fact that it wasn’t discovered until now.

Lancaster gives credit to curator Wayne Mathes for nudging her along. Mathes says, “Janet is the only one that I know of that has the skills and contacts to have done this research.” She volunteers every Friday and is the resident expert on the museum’s photographs collection and archives.

We’ll give them both credit and say thank you, not because it changes history or even changes the remarkable accomplishments of Robert McHenry, né Brewster. This research shows that he was, for all his successes, just human.

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