It’s All About them Men!

It’s not exactly prose, and no one really knows, where or when the list of quips below originated.  But, my husband, Bob, passed it on to me in an email last week because it made him chuckle.  He had received it from a former colleague.

I quickly referred to my source for global information–Google–and found the first instance of it appeared on April 25, 2008, on the SAP Fan Club Forum.  The next entry I found was in a 2009 book, Enjoy Freedom from Financial Stress by Kathy Kline Danner, and the most recent entry was January 8, 2015.  I found it on the giffgaff social community forum.

And now, I’m sharing it with you because on its lightest side, most of the quips are absolutely hilarious. Yet others give me pause because they illustrate the inequality that has spanned generations due to our gender and cultural idiosyncrasies. I am sure there are many more quips that we could add to this list.  I would truly enjoy your suggestions and comments.


happy menMen Are Just Happier People —
What do you expect from such simple creatures?
His last name stays put.
The garage is all his
Wedding plans take care of themselves.
Chocolate is just another snack…
He can never be pregnant.
He can wear a white T-shirt to a water park.
He can wear NO shirt to a water park.
Car mechanics tell him the truth.
The world is his urinal.
He never has to drive to another gas station restroom because this one is just too icky for him.
He doesn’t have to stop and think of which way to turn a nut on a bolt.
Same work, more pay.
Wrinkles add character.
Your Wedding dress $5000. His Tux rental-$100.
People never stare at his chest when they’re talking to them.
New shoes don’t cut, blister, or mangle his feet.
One mood all the time.
His phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat.
He knows stuff about tanks.
A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase.
He can open all his own jars.
If someone forgets to invite him, He or she can still be his friend.
His underwear is $8.95 for a three-pack.
Three pairs of shoes are more than enough.
Everything on his face stays its original color.
The same hairstyle lasts him for years, even decades.
He only has to shave his face and neck.
He can play with toys all his life.
One wallet and one pair of shoes — one color for all seasons.
He can wear shorts no matter how his legs look.
He can ‘do’ his nails with a pocket knife.
He has a freedom of choice concerning growing a mustache.
He can do Christmas shopping for 25 relatives on December 24 in 25 minutes.


If Laura, Kate and Sarah go out for lunch, they will call each other Laura, Kate and Sarah. If Mike, Dave and John go out, they will affectionately refer to each other as Fat Boy, Bubba and Wildman.


Layout 1When the bill arrives, Mike, Dave and John will each throw in $20, even though it’s only for $32.50. None of them will have anything smaller and none will actually admit they want change back.
When we girls get our bill, out come the pocket calculators…YEP!!!


moneyA man will pay $2 for a $1 item he needs.
A woman will pay $1 for a $2 item that she doesn’t need but it’s on sale.


A man has six items in his bathroom: toothbrush and toothpaste, shaving cream, razor, a bar of soap, and a towel.
The average number of items in the typical woman’s bathroom is 337. A man would not be able to identify more than 20 of these items.


A woman has the last word in any argument.
Anything a man says after that is the beginning of a new argument.


A woman worries about the future until she gets a husband.
A man never worries about the future until he gets a wife.


 A woman marries a man expecting he will change, but he doesn’t.
 A man marries a woman expecting that she won’t change, but she does.


A woman will dress up to go shopping, water the plants, empty the trash, answer the phone, read a book, and get the mail.
A man will dress up for weddings and funerals.


Men wake up as good-looking as they went to bed.
Women somehow deteriorate during the night.


A woman knows all about her children. She knows about dentist appointments, romances, best friends, favorite foods, secret fears, hopes, and dreams.
A man is vaguely aware of some short people living in the house.


A married man should forget his mistakes. There’s no use in two people remembering the same thing!

On the Road Again–Music City Here We Come!

Amid threats of a winter storm, at 6 a.m. Friday morning, January 23, 2015, my sister (by another mother whose birthday would have been on Saturday), and I began our travels from Maryland to Nashville to surprise her 27-year-old son, my nephew, Brandon, and his band Two Ton Twig, at their first Nashville area gig on Saturday night at the Legendary Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor.

solar glare along Blue RidgeTravelling west into the bright sun that glared through the windshield and off the paved roads that so long ago were cut through the Appalachian Mountain Chain across the  Potomac, Roanoke, and James Rivers; down through Skyline Drive, the Shenandoah National Park, and Rockfish Gap, onto Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smokey’s–all of our senses awakened and delighted.  As we drove this scenic route for 12 hours the sun rose and set and light-to-heavy rains came down. The temperatures dropped and the rain soon turned into snow.

Franklin CollageWhen morning came, we awoke to hills salted in white and mountains capped with snow in a distance. And this is how our weekend trip to support a family member along this stage of his young adult life’s journey began.  

By mid-morning Saturday in Franklin, the weather was absolutely gorgeous and  unseasonably warm temps had returned.  We ventured only a few miles into downtown Historic Franklin, and after a quick stop at the local Starbucks for my favorite Chai Tea Latte (with soy), we spent several hours walking  along brick sidewalks and among lovely Victorian architecture in this 16-block Historic National Register district.2015-01-24 007 We browsed the antiques, art galleries, gift, book stores and boutiques just to sample the local culture and history. Then, much to our surprise, we stumbled right into Kimbro’s Pick’n Parlor front porch and sat down at their inviting table to take a picture.

In the early afternoon, we hit the streets of Music City and the Songwriting Capital of the World. As we soon learned, Nashville’s settlers as early as the late 1700’s celebrated with fiddle tunes and dancing. And Nashville’s first celebrity was the noted frontiersman and Congressman Davy Crockett, (also known far and wide for his colorful stories and fiddle playing).

After parking our car, we were quickly whisked away by the sounds of live country music of Steven Clawson (a season 11 American Idol contestant), that streamed out of the open doors of the Tequila Cowboy on Broadway Street. Tequila Cowboy CollageWhile being entertained, we ate lunch which was a mouth-watering southern recipe of pulled pork BBQ with Cole Slaw and onion rings. As Steven signed his autographs on a couple of his CD’s, he asked where we were from.  When I asked him how long he had been in Nashville, he explained that after he graduated high school at age 18, he immediately left his home in Georgia for Nashville.  He went on to say that tomorrow he would turn 33 and even after 15 years, he’s still trying to make it big. Steven said he’s had a few contracts and lost a few, but isn’t giving up on his dream.

nashville pedal tavernAnd talking about dreams and dreaming–I thought we were when before our eyes appeared a Nashville Pedal Tavern–people using bicycle pedals to party and tour the city while imbibing.  And their driver was another aspiring singer songwriter–Luke McPherson.  He, too, was working to sustain himself while pursuing his dream.  This looked like great fun to us.  We just might suggest a spin-off concept for one of our church events at our local beaches.

With this being said, it was time for us to say goodbye to Nashville for now and head back to Franklin for our Saturday night gig–planned as a surprise for Brandon and the other band members of Two Ton Twig.

Over the past 18 hours or so there were a series of little white lies that played out among the texts and calls between mom, Diane, and son, Brandon, as to her whereabouts and what she was doing. All the while, Diane was closely tracking Brandon and his band along their way.  As it were, when we arrived in Franklin about 8 o’clock Friday night,  the band was several hours behind us and didn’t arrive until sometime in the wee hours of Saturday morning.  This gave them just enough time to catch a nap before the evening’s performance–Oh, the life of struggling artists who have day jobs and nighttime/weekend gigs.

Kimbros Promo PosterIt was 6:30 when we parked across the street from Kimbro’s.  We carefully looked around to confirm there were no signs of Twig.  A lot of hustle and bustle was going on inside because set up was happening for the first band began to play at 7 and early birds were ordering food and drinks from the bar.  We were lucky and easily got front row center seats. To kill time, we took a couple of pictures of ourselves sitting in seats in front of the stage.  Then it occurred to us–why not send Brandon a photo of Diane and not say a word.

Us at Kimbros As it happened he immediately texted back “Really?!?”  And through the doors he came.  Unfortunately, I was at the bar in an adjacent room, but Diane said Brandon’s reaction was great and all that she had hoped for.

Two Ton Twig New Pic

Twig’s band members include:

Jordan Balzer – Mandolin, Vocals
Brandon Boling – Banjo, Vocals
Ian Greening – Bass, Vocals
Anna Hennessy – Fiddle, Vocals
Donnie Riggs – Dobro, Guitar, Vocals

As a bonus, here’s another one of the songs they played for the audience Harvest Moon:  

And, during their 6 song set, Brandon dedicated a song to his mom and aunt.Their set was third out of the six bands that appeared. They had great energy and the room responded with clapping during and after, a few whistle call’s, and many compliments as they left the stage.  All was good–actually, better than good–all we could have hoped for out of our trip and for the band.
Close Brothers

The Close Brothers: Eric, Randy, and Christopher Close

In addition to other songwriters and musicians among the audience, we sat next to Eric Close, (Nashville TV’s character Teddy Conrad), and his brother Christopher Close (Detective Porter in 2014’s Unspeakable Indiscretions  and Dan Pritchard in Massacre Lake movies). By the way, Chris Close plays a mean and bluesy harmonica! Both the Close brothers seem like very grounded guys and we enjoyed briefly talking with them.

Bito Mann

Bito Mann

We also sat next to Bito Mann and his mom who came in from Memphis to see her son perform. FYI, Bito is TRULY the MAN–he arranged the mini-tour weekend, put up the Twigs at his home in Franklin, and is one heck of a performer with his band.  Bito  on the anniversary of his brother Robbie’s death, dedicated a song in memory of him that brought us all to tears.

In return, we became closer and met many strangers who quickly became strangers no more purely out of our common love and respect  of music, compassion and even empathy for the artists shared moments in time through their storytelling lyrics and tunes–some happy, some funny, some so stirring and sad we wept, hugged, and washed away each other’s tears.

So many stories to be shared, so many songs to be sung, so much music to be heard from so many talented, gifted, and struggling artists.  That about sums up our life experience and take away lessons from this weekend in Nashville.  May God’s blessings go out to all those young people who are trying to make it!

From Harp to Heart to Banjo Plucking Fingers

Our Family’s Gifted and Talented Musicians 

John Doan – Harp Guitarist


I have written a few times in past posts about our family’s gifted and talented, especially our musicians–past and present.  In particular, I have mentioned maternal cousin John (through my grandmother Loretta Lathrop (nee) branch and my 8th great grandfather Samuel Lathrop, Esquire (1623-1700) and his wife, Abigail Doane (1631-1734).

John is an Emmy-nominated performer, composer, public speaker, historian, instrument collector, and university professor.

Brandon Boling – Banjo Player

TwoTonTwigLogoIn past posts, I also briefly mentioned my brother Frank’s son and musician, 27-year-old Brandon Boling.  By day Brandon serves people food and drink and by night he and his band, Two Ton Twig, dish out lively fun and entertainment primarily in the Washington, D.C, Metropolitan area from where all five band members hail.  I mashed up these two family musicians in today’s post because to me their approaches to music and entertainment are so very similar.

As a master of the twenty-string harp guitar, John Doan pioneered a new way of playing guitar. In his international concerts, John uses his magical and musical storytelling adventures to evoke laughter, tears, and dreams that sweep you away. Likewise, Brandon’s Two Ton Twig band blends new and old-timey music. Their tunes and tales influenced by Folk, Americana, Hard Rock, Eastern European folk music, 80’s British Indie, and classic American Blue Grass deliver mesmerizing original music that includes high energy and fun, heart warming, dark and twisted, and sometimes even surprisingly life affirming lyrics and moods.

Brandon’s banjo finger-plucking goes from full throttle to really slow, really quiet, and really beautiful as Twig regales and involves their audiences in interesting and sometimes intense experiences.  Twig’s first album will soon be released, and they are spreading their gigs further down the south atlantic this weekend to play at the Legendary Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor on Saturday, January 24, at 8:30 p.m., just 10 miles south of Nashville in Franklin–one of the principal cities of the Nashville metropolitan area.  On Sunday, January 25, at 9 p.m. they will be at the Baja Bean Company, in the heart of downtown Staunton, Virginia.  If you live near either of these events, they make for a great inexpensive date night or evening out.  Come one, come all!

For those of you who have seen or heard of them–beware!  Twig is on the rise in their music genre.  Twig’s band members include:

Jordan Balzer – Mandolin, Vocals
Brandon Boling – Banjo, Vocals
Ian Greening – Bass, Vocals
Anna Hennessy – Fiddle, Vocals
Donnie Riggs – Dobro, Guitar, Vocals

Here’s one of Two Ton Twig’s newest originals–“Those Things”

Our Descendancy–in Red, White and Blue…

America’s Red, White and Blue…

On June 14, 1777 in Philadelphia,  the Second Continental Congress adopted a resolution: “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white, in a blue field representing a new constellation.”

First version of the Union jack used in England from 1606 and Scotland from 1707 – the Flags of England and Scotland superimposed.

First version of the Union jack used in England from 1606 and Scotland from 1707 – the Flags of England and Scotland superimposed.

As to the significance of our flag’s colors–they came from England’s “Union Jack Flag,” our Founding Fathers were very familiar with it. Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, explained the colors for America’s flag; “white signifies purity and innocence; red, hardiness and valor; and blue–vigilance, perseverance and justice”.  That’s the long and the short of the story behind America’s Stars and Stripes.

2nd Continental Congress Flag

The Bolling Family’s Red, White and Blue…

Writing about the flag was easy.  Next, comes “the rub” part of this post.  Some of you may already have researched the Bolling Family’s history and are aware of its “red” or “white” blood lines.  For those of you who haven’t, I’m about to give you a brief explanation below:
Red blood line Bolling’s go back to my 9th paternal great grandfather, Colonel Robert Thomas Bolling (1646-1709), and his wife, Jane Poythress Rolfe (1650-1676), who was a granddaughter of Pocahontas (daughter of Thomas Powhatan Rolfe–only son of Pocahontas and Jane Poythress).  Therefore, our  “red line” descendancy refers to our Native American heritage.
The White blood line Bolling’s go back to the same Colonel Robert Thomas Bolling (as, above); the children he bore with his second wife, Anne Merriweather Stith (1665-1710).
Colonel Robert Bolling and Jane Rolfe had a son named Major John Fairfax Bolling who married Mary Elizabeth Kennon and had 8 children– their children too, continued the Bolling’s red blood line from his mother.
Now–There is yet a third group who claims to descend from the marriage of Major John Kennon Bolling (son of Major John Fairfax Bolling and Mary Elizabeth Kennon) and Elizabeth Blair.  It seems that there was a book published about the descendants of Pocahontas and John Rolfe and after its publication,  a number of Bollings complained that their ancestors were omitted in the list of the children of John Kennon Bolling and Elizabeth Blair. Since they appeared “out of the blue”, they became known as the “Blue Bollings”.
I have done some research, but, it seems not enough.  More is needed starting with Robert Bolling’s Memoir, originally in French, written before 1764; next the English translation in 1803 by Judge John Robertson that 65 years later in 1868 went to print for the first time.  Some of its contents follow:



Robert Bolling, a son of Major John, wrote “A Memoir of a Portion of the Bolling Family” in French, before 1764. It was translated into English in 1803 by Judge John Robertson and later “fell into the hands of John Randolph of Roanoke.” Sixty-five years later in 1868, it was returned to Judge Robertson and put in print for the first time.

On page 5, Robert mentioned the marriage of Major John to Elizabeth Blair, stating that they had many children, some of whom died in their infancy and that ” ….. those who survived him (he died on January 6, 1757) are:

Thomas, 18 July, 1735
John June, 1737
Robert 28 August, 1738
Mary 28 July, 1744
Edward, 9 September, 1746
Archibald, 20 March 1749 (second son of that name)
Sarah, 16 June, 1748 (second daughter of that name)
Anne, 7 February, 1752 (second daughter of that name)

If Memoir is correct with respect to the children of Major John who survived him, then all of the children born before Thomas, 1735, died. The first five children on the VOLTA and OMSS lists – all died young; the first eight children shown on the PRICE list all died young, were never born, or were not Major John’s children. It’s hard to believe.

The list in MEMOIR was duplicated in “Pocahontas and her Descendants” by Wyndham Robertson who said Major John had nineteen children though he named only seven of them. He omitted Edward, 1746, even though Edward had been included in MEMOIR. CHART says that eleven other children died without issue. therefore MEMOIR, Robertson’s list and CHART are of limited value in identifying the “mysterious Bolling.”

The VOLTA and OMSS lists are essentially identical – they constitute one list, which can be compared to the PRICE list. The difference between these lists identifies the names of these children, real or purported, who should be researched further. See Note 1


This book was published in 1887 and re-printed in 1982. As mentioned above, it states on page 32 that Major John had nineteen children even though it lists only seven, Edward being omitted.

In the preface to his book, Robertson states:

I have to lament the want of completeness I sought as a genealogy, baffled in part by ignorance of the sources to apply to, and in large part, also, by the indifference of many to the object in view. To these causes are owing the many bare and unsightly limbs it exhibits, that disappoint the eye by want of their proper foliage. I hope, however, that these very defects themselves will serve to stimulate many, who will regret to see them, to yet supply these waste places, in some future reprint, with their proper garniture. I submit it as it is, however, with all its defects If I have succeeded in laying a safe foundation whereon others may raise a more complete structure, I shall be content.”

Robinson’s flowery prose almost obscures the point he is trying to make, but obviously he thought his book was incomplete and hoped that future writers would fill in the gaps. Since he knew that Major John had nineteen children, one of whom was his grandfather, Thomas 1735, it is puzzling that he couldn’t name at least some of the other twelve children. Thomas and his wife, Elizabeth Gay, were first cousins.

The gaps in Robertson’s list are interesting. If Major John had fathered only the seven children named in Robertson’s book, Major John and Elizabeth would have had no children during the first seven years of their marriage, three children between 1735 and 1738, then no children during the next six years until Mary was born in 1744, followed by four more childless years, then three more children between 1748 and 1752. These irregular gaps were filled by later researchers. For the names of the spouses of the seven children listed by Robertson see Note 2.

I believe the updates to the memoir above, are within the books listed below.  Hopefully, we can further clarify the issue and perhaps even find the answers.

POCAHONTAS’ DESCENDANTS: A Revision, Enlargement and Extension of the List as Set out by Wyndham Robertson in His Book Pocahontas and Her Descendants (1887) Paperback 1997;  Fourth and Fifth Corrections and Additions to Pocahontas’ Descendants Paperback – June 1, 2009 by Jr. E. Brown (Author); and, Further Corrections and Additions by Stuart E. Brown (Author), Lorraine F. Myers (Author), Jr. Stuart E. Brown (Author) Paperback – March 27, 2010

W. S. Rose.

Sorry to leave you hanging on the topic of the blue blood Bolling lines.  If any of my readers have access to any of these books, I would greatly enjoy hearing from you about your findings.

Until next time…

Boling, Texas: ZIPcode 77420

Too many historic and genealogical instances made it inconceivable for me not to have associated my Ford, Morris, Wharton, and Boling Family lineage with Wharton County’s Boling, Texas! And then, among the Google Books I found the following that placed the Texas Wharton’s and Boling’s back among  my paternal great grandfather’s and great grandmother’s of Virginia.. 

Virginia Cousins

By G. Brown Goode
Genealogical Publishing Com, Jun 1, 2009 – History – 604 pages

This collection of verbatim wills from 1656 to 1692 pertains not to present-day Rappahannock County but to “Old Rappahannock” County. “Old Rappahannock” was formed from Lancaster County in 1656; in 1692 its land south of the Rappahannock River was re-named Essex County, while that to the north became Richmond County. Owing to his interest in the ancestry of Francis Graves, son of Captain Thomas Graves, a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1619, Mr. Sweeney painstakingly transcribed the wills of this extinct county from scattered deed and order books at the courthouse in Tappahannock, Virginia. Although he never found the coveted will of his ancestor, the compiler amassed, in the form of these wills, a priceless collection of information about “the extent and boundaries of early patents, the comfortable household equipment of a few of the inhabitants…the provision for widows and children, the maintenance of servants and slaves, the education of the children, the importance of livestock…the care of the sick, family quarrels” and much more about this newly settled community. Genealogists will be able to search among the very same wills for the names, relationships, and whereabouts of 2,500 of the earliest settlers of what would become Essex and Richmond counties.

From Pages 126 and 127:

Dr. AUSTIN WHARTON, of Cartersville, Cumberland Co., Va., was born in Albemarle Co., 1775: educated at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa.: practiced medicine in Cartersville from 1804 to 1834, when he removed to Goochland Co., where he died.  Married (I) Lucy GOODE, DAUGHTER OF John Goode, No. 109, born 1787, died 1818.  Married (2) a sister of Hon. Edward Bates, of Missouri, Attorney General of the United States.  Children. (All by first wife):–

847-1/2, CHARLOTTE WHARTON, d. unm.  848, Thomas GOODE, d. yg. 849, ROBERT HENRY, b 1811, d 1857.  850, Rev. Charles D., Presbyterian clergyman, b 1818, d. 1845. 851, RICHARD GOODE, B. 1815.

Dr. Austin Wharton was son of John Wharton, originally of Culpeper Co., Va., who died near Nashville, 1813; another son was Judge Jesse Wharton, of Nashville, another was William H. (Harris) Wharton, a leader in the early political history of Texas, Senator of the Republic, and minister to the U.S.; still another John A. (Austin) Wharton, was Adjutant General of the Texas Republic.  (See also H.A. Wise’s Seven Decades of the Union, p. 147.)

As one link led easily to another from references in the above book, my family tree quickly expanded.  Long ago I had recorded to my tree that Edward (Bud) Vincent Boling (my paternal great grandfather) married Mary Florence Wharton on May 9, 1898, in Spotsylvania, Virginia, where so many Bolings/Bollings/Bowlings and Whartons were born. And just today, I discovered that Dr. Austin Wharton was indeed my missing paternal 4th great grandfather; John Wharton was my 5th great grandfather; and, Judge Jesse Wharton and his siblings were my 4th great grand uncles. 


Wharton County, (named after brothers and former TX Congressmen, William Harris Wharton and John Austin Wharton) Texas Gulf Coast Farm to Market (FM) Rd 1301 and Farm to Market(FM) Rd 442 11 miles SE of Wharton.
Population: 1271

 Boling TX Pecan Orchard

 History in a Pecan Shell (As published by the Texas State Historical Association–10 Jun 2013)

Once known as Floyd’s Lane, Boling was renamed after the New York, Texas and Mexican Railway built through around 1900. The new name came from the middle name of Mary Bolling Vineyard, daughter of the man who platted the town. The name was misspelled when the post office was granted.

Although new settlers arrived after the railroad was built – the region was mostly made up of large tracts of land which had been former plantations. In 1907 Boling may have had a railroad connection, but the population was less than fifty with only the most basic businesses. That changed in the mid 1920s with the discovery of the huge oil, gas and sulfur deposits of the Boling Dome. The boom wasn’t as big as the oil boomtowns of legend, but the population increased tenfold to nearly 500 by 1930 and reaching 800 during WWII.

In 1941 the Boling Independent School District was formed of Boling and the neighboring communities of Iago and Newgulf. The high school was in Boling, the junior high in Iago, and the elementary school was inNewgulf.

The population had dropped to a little over 500 in the early 1970s but by the early 90s it had grown to nearly 1,300. The Newgulf sulfur plant closed in late 1993 and the population for Boling-Iago was still 1,271 while Newgulf joined the list of Texas ghost towns.

Boling Texas Today:

Boling TX Data and Demographics

Boling United Methodist Church, Boling Texas

Boling United Methodist Church
Photo courtesy Ken Rudine, 2008

Boling United Methodist Church historical marker, Boling Texas

Boling United Methodist Church historical marker
Photo courtesy Ken Rudine, 2008

Boling High School,  Boling Texas

Boling High School
Photo courtesy Ken Rudine, 2008

Boling Texas mural depicting oil boom

Boling Texas mural depicting oil boom

Boling Texas Fire Station with mural

Boling Texas Fire Station with mural

Boling Texas fire hydrant painted like a dog

Most of Boling Texas fireplugs are painted like dogs.
Photo courtesy Ken Rudine, 2008

Pump jack in Boling Texas

The town pump jack has Christmas lights on it.
Photo courtesy Ken Rudine, 2008

Merle R. Hudgins, “BOLING, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online(, accessed June 10, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Vanishing Data?

If the Census Bureau proceeds with a recently released plan, then in a few years’ time, we will know very little about how the contours of family life are changing.

We will not even know whether marriage and divorce rates are rising or falling. For all the talk of evidence-based policy, the result will be that important debates on issues including family law, welfare reform, same-sex marriage and the rise of nontraditional families will proceed in a statistical void.

Much of what I, an economist who has studied family issues, and my colleagues in this field have learned about recent trends in marriage and divorce has come from questions in the American Community Survey. It asks people whether they have given birth, married, divorced or been widowed in the past year. Their answers allow demographers to track marriage and divorce rates by age, gender, race and education.

These data have revealed many important social trends, including the rise of sharply different marriage and divorce patterns between rich and poor, and the increase in divorce among older Americans, even as it has fallen for younger people. And they have provided the only statistical window into the adoption of same-sex marriage.


CreditDavid Cleveland/Getty Images

The Census Bureau is proposing to eliminate these questions. It would follow a series of steps taken over recent decades that have collectively devastated our ability to track family change. This isn’t being done as a strategic policy choice but rather is the result of a series of isolated decisions made across several decades by statisticians scattered across various government agencies who have failed to understand the cumulative effect of their actions.

In principle, tracking marriage and divorce shouldn’t be too hard. Every wedding, like every divorce, requires a trip to City Hall or the county courthouse to file the relevant paperwork. The resulting paper trail should be enough to allow analysts to map the contours of our changing family life over time. Indeed, until the mid-1990s, the federal government collated data from all those marriage and divorce certificates into a coherent set of marriage and divorce statistics that detailed the changing nature of marriage.

But in 1996, the National Center for Health Statistics stopped collecting these detailed data. If you subsequently got married or divorced, the forms you filled out still exist, but only as unexamined documents in a filing cabinet at your county courthouse.

Today, states report only the total number of marriages and divorces each year — providing no detail on who is marrying, which marriages persist or whether children are involved. And because the government devotes so few resources to collecting these data, several states don’t even bother counting how many divorces they grant. As a result, estimates of the divorce rate for the United States do not include data on a large share of the country; they are missing all of the divorces in California, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana and Minnesota.

The rationale the health statisticians offered for no longer collecting the more detailed data was that much of this information could be gleaned from a special survey taken every five years as a supplement to the Current Population Survey. But a different set of government statisticians killed that supplement in the late 1990s.

All was not lost, as demographers could still rely on surveys asking people about their marital histories as part of a separate poll, the Survey of Income and Program Participation. These are useful data as far as they go — and indeed, we relied heavily on them in a recent analysis of national divorce trends here at The Upshot. However, these marital histories are taken every five years, they’re only as reliable as people’s memories, and the results are released only years later. As such, the most recent year we have data for is 2008.

Moreover, the sample size is so small that it is impossible to track trends by state. For instance, the latest iteration includes only 23 New Yorkers who got divorced in the most recent three years. This is particularly problematic because most family policies are implemented at the state level, and so the survey can’t be used to track, say, the implications of New York having adopted no-fault divorce laws in 2010.

It gets worse. The Bush administration decided to kill that remaining family survey. Even though it later reversed itself in the face of widespread criticism, it did so with a much reduced budget, which has necessitated a host of changes in how the survey is conducted. It remains unclear just how comparable these new data will be with earlier survey rounds.

It is this emerging statistical void that makes the debate about whether the Census Bureau should continue to collect marriage and divorce information so critical. It’s also an issue ripe for confusion, because dozens of government surveys ask people about their current marital status. But current marital status is not the relevant statistic for most policy debates. For instance, it would be a mistake to infer from Zsa Zsa Gabor’s current marital status (still married) that her children enjoyed a stable family life (he’s husband No. 9). It is far more relevant to track the flow of new marriages and divorces each year, and this is the unique contribution of the questions that are to be cut from the American Community Survey. If the cuts proceed, then the United States will be the only developed country lacking annual estimates of the rates of new marriage and divorce for each age group.

There’s a bigger issue here, too. The federal government has dozens of statistical bureaus spread across countless government agencies. The result is fragmented expertise, and incentives to make decisions that reflect narrow departmental interests rather than a broader sense of the public interest. Many other countries have consolidated the various statistical groups into a coherent national statistical agency.

When I asked Jim Treat, the Census Bureau division chief in charge of the American Community Survey, whether his proposal meant that it would be impossible to measure the divorce rate in 2016, he responded: “I don’t know the answer to that question.” I found this troubling, because I know that Mr. Treat’s proposal will eliminate our only measure of the national divorce rate.

When I asked Mr. Treat what led him to his decision, he described a processthat was focused not on whether these questions should be asked, but whether they should be asked on the particular survey he manages. His is a survey focused on generating statistics for small areas or small groups, and divorce remains sufficiently rare that estimates at the level of, say, a county, remain quite unreliable. Unfortunately, the fact that this survey yields the only estimates of marriage and divorce in many states appears not to have been considered significant.

In the end, the decision to shorten the survey reflects political calculation – an effort to mollify Tea Party Republicans who tried to eliminate the American Community Survey altogether, arguing that it is an unconstitutional breach of privacy. A briefer questionnaire may yield less political opposition. The Census Bureau targeted the questions about marriage and divorce not because people object to answering the questions posed (it turns out that they don’t), but instead because they judged the resulting data to be of little benefit, since no legislative formulas are linked directly to them.

The proposed cuts to the survey are open for public comment, and so far, the reaction has been vigorous. (The comment period closes later today; more information is available at this link.)

The leading academic association of demographers has argued for the Census Bureau to reverse course, as have many individual analysts. Steven Ruggles, the incoming president of the Population Association of America,argues that cutting these data “would severely damage our ability to understand ongoing changes in American society and to implement effective policy responses.” His sentiments echo earlier analysis by the Census Bureau that “no other data sources exist that can provide the level of detail necessary to plan for and evaluate the effects of federal policies and programs related to marriage.”

The silver lining to all this is that this is the first time that I have seen people on both the conservative and progressive sides of the family policy wars agree on something: the value of continuing to collect useful data about family life. After all, each realizes that without actual data to rely on, the politically charged opinions of the other side will become more important forces shaping policy.