I’m not a descendant of any of the “habitual drunkards” on the Birmingham Pub Black List just released on Ancestry.com—at least so far as I know. My family began leaving Europe in the 1700s and were pretty much done with the old country well before the turn of the 20th century. Even so, when a copy of the Pub Black List landed on my desk, my initial “perusal” went on for two hours.
To enforce the 1902 Sale of Liquor to Habitual Drunkard’s Licensing Act, the Watch Committee of the City of Birmingham provided licensed liquor sellers with photos and descriptions of tippling citizens who were not to be sold liquor. These are the 82 souls who inhabit the pages of the Birmingham Pub Black List. And I confess, once I started looking, I had a hard time looking away.
There was Richard “Dick the Devil” Flemming, a “Hawker and Newsvendor,” with his suit coat—or what was left of it—held closed with an enormous safety pin. He looked like he might have a bit of the devil in him, to be honest.
On the other hand, Catherine Finnerty, with a smart straw hat and fancy brocade bodice, looked more like she might be a friend Mary Poppins would meet for tea. A sort of glum friend, maybe, and of course, you can’t see the cut scars on her face, the five tattoos onto her forearms, and the missing finger on her left hand in the picture.
When it comes down to it, I’m just a sucker for a good story, and there are 82 of them in the pages of the Birmingham Pub Black List. So when one of you whose ancestry does detour through the pages of this little black book finds out who Alice Tatlow’s true love was (I’ll give you a hint: the initials are K.B.) or how Walter Harrison got the nickname “Property,” I want to know.