It is fitting to give some account of the life and work of Lyman Willard Densmore,the man who uncovered and preserved the record of the Hartwell family through the first two centuries of its existance in America.
Mr.Densmore was born Feb.18,1832, the only son of Lyman Willard Densmore and Olive Hartwell.He attended school in Royalton,Vermont, but his school days ceased in 1845 as he was obliged to help on the farm.He collected spruce gum to pay for textbooks in mathematics and began teaching school at the age of 16 with indifferent success.In 1850 he framed a dwelling for his father,and was engaged as a carpenter for the next two years.He went to New York City as a ship joiner,taught in evening schools,and in March, 1855, started for Nebraska. Here he spent most of the next four years,surveying land,running a flat boat on the Missouri river,assisting to boom a paper town on his location,and contracting for the erection of a courthouse in Atchison Co. Missouri. In 1859 he went to St. Joseph,Mo. as a bridge builder and gave his chief attention to that work during his stay in the west.
The breaking out of the civil war found him on a bridge contract.He remained and finished the contract, and then enlisted on Jan. 19, 1862 in A co., 4th calvery M.S.M., resigned March 4, 1863. He felt justified in resigning because his commander was such a complete failure that the disbanding of the regiment was determined on, and he was convinced that he could render no further beneficial service to the country while connected with that command.
From that time on,with the exception of the year of 1869 which was spent in various enterprises,he worked until 1880 at highway bridge building in northwest Missouri,northwest Kansas and southwest Iowa.In June, 1881 he was called east by the serious illness of his father, and about Christmas time 1883 he was induced to undertake the work of preparing a history of the Hartwell family,to which he gave all of his time for the next dozen or more years.
The 1956 genealogy was based on two books by Mr. Densmore,one, the Handbook of Hartwell Genealogy,published in 1887,and the other,The Hartwell Family,published in 1895. Thus, in the remarkably short time of four years,The Handbook,containing an estimated 7000 names was published.This achievement was accomplished in the face of great difficulties.He traveled all over the eastern United States by railroad,horse and buggy and on foot,and without money. He begged shelter with some Hartwell family,and with pencil and notebook in hand,interviewed every person in town who could give him a scrap of information,whether it required a day or a week of his time. Usually some member of the clan would give him five or ten dollars to pay his way to the next town,where, with unflagging zeal,he woul pursue his questioning and his questioners.In this way the material for The Handbook was accumulated.He succeeded in raising enough money to have the book published,but in order to do so,it had to be crowded together in fine print. His object was twofold,- to preserve the work already done,and to call attention to the members of the family of the many known ommissions and inaccuracies in the manuscript, in the hope that many persons would send in corrections and additional data.That this hope was largely realized,is without doubt,but the fact that we have so little tangible evidence of its realization is due to two unfortunate circumstances.
In 1895,eight years after the publication of The Handbook, Mr. Densmore sent out his Hartwell Family. During these eight years he had been unsuccessfully trying to persuade a few dollars out of the thousand or more correspondants,so as to issue his complete Hartwell Genealogy at an early date. There is no way of learning how much money was collected eventually,but he seems to have started the publication of this second book hopefully enough in 1895. Evidently the material was well in hand,but possibly failing health may have hastened him to the printer.At any rate the new book,a revision and amplification of the first twenty five pages of The Handbook,stopped short at this point,and 176 pages of The Hartwell Family issued from the press. It is quite easy to imagine that the money to carry the book farther was not in sight,and the prospect of obtaining it must have seemed remote.
About the time of Mr. Densmore's death in 1898,the unsold copies of The Hartwell Family,with "literally bushels" of notes containing new material received after 1887 which could not be published for lack of money; corrections inspired by The Handbook; pictures, anecdotes,biographical sketches,etc., all fell into the hands of a second-hand dealer in Hartford, Conn. This man would not sell any of this material,but would sell all of it.After a year or two, finding no buyer,and tired of stumbling over the unwanted mass of papers,he burned them.An irreparable loss,but one suffered by many families in many states,ancient and modern.