'Of police court fame'

My grandfather, born in 1931.

The benefits of newspaper databases when conducting family research can be remarkable. One usually hopes to find valuable birth, marriage, and death notices, or, if you’re lucky, an interesting detail you may not be able to glean from the usual genealogical record. It is not so often that you discover your ancestors (and their exploits) were a favorite subject of the local newspaper, or how public family turmoil can sometimes be.

As someone with a close relationship with my maternal grandparents, it was interesting to learn that my grandfather does not know much about his own maternal grandparents – just that his grandfather, William Hatin, was such a small man that he supposedly wore children’s shoes.

Searching for records on William, I learned he was born in 1887 in Winooski, Vermont. When I typed his name into a popular newspaper database I got dozens of hits from The Burlington Free Press spanning nearly his entire life.

A month later, the newspaper reported that warrants had been issued for the Hatin brothers...

They began seemingly harmlessly in December 1905, when William, his brother Arthur, and a friend, Alma Bernard, were involved in a runaway carriage incident; no one was hurt but the rented carriage was damaged. A month later, the newspaper reported that warrants had been issued for the Hatin brothers, as they had failed to pay for the damage done to the carriage during their “pleasure ride.”

A short time later the paper reported that William “quietly married” Alma Bernard in February 1906. Their daughter Yvonne (my great-grandmother) was born six months later.

By July 1911 the Hatin brothers appeared in the paper again, reportedly under arrest for the theft of a neighbor’s chickens and their eggs. In October, William – now “of police court fame” – was arrested for “breach of the peace” and “annoying a woman neighbor.” A month later the newspaper reported that William and Alma had “given up on housekeeping,” moved from their home, and sent their four young children to the convent. The family had apparently reunited by June 1916, when was it was reported that 29-year-old William was sentenced to 6 months in jail for a second charge of the theft of 12 chickens.

After the dawn of prohibition, William and Alma Hatin’s names appear in The Burlington Free Press on a staggering 28 occasions. They were both arrested multiple times for the possession and sale of liquor, and their home was raided three times by the police. In 1924, William was brought to court for violating his probation by drinking and selling liquor, “putting his wife out of house,” and failing to keep steadily employed.

In July 1925, the paper reported William’s suicide attempt in garish detail. In 1930, he was arrested again for public intoxication.

William and Alma eventually separated. Alma was arrested a final time in 1938 and put on probation due to illness; she moved to Albany, New York, and died there in 1956.

William was arrested twice more in 1941. He plead guilty and was sentenced to two years in the state prison. He broke out of the jail, turned himself in, and was given 90 more days. He died on 9 June 1950 in Burlington.

It is conceivable that my great-grandmother, a deeply religious woman, kept her children shielded from the exploits of her parents, and so my grandfather did not have much of a relationship with them. The articles about William and Alma Hatin in their local paper tell a story of two people on the wrong side of the law, but it is important to look past the sensationalism of the headlines to the harsh realities of mental illness and alcoholism. It is only then that we might glean some truth from the gossip.

Danielle Cournoyer

About Danielle Cournoyer

Prior to NEHGS, Danielle worked as an Interpretation and Programming Fellow for The Church of the Presidents, where she led guided tours of the historic church and the Adams crypt. Additionally, Danielle has worked as an Historic District Research Aid for the Arlington Historical Commission. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Boston with a Master of Arts degree in History in May 2016. Her interests include urban development and history, focusing on Boston and New York.View all posts by Danielle Cournoyer