Kimberley Ann Carpenter and I were married on July 2, 2014, we both had grown children, and she
proudly became grandmother Kimmie to my granddaughters. Kim and I talked about our life stories, and
my heart became obsessed with the fact that she had lived in an orphanage as an eight- month- old
infant, until her sixth birthday. Kim’s social worker had tried to place her in foster homes, but the
orphanage was the only home she had ever known, so she had difficulty adjusting, and always returned
to the children’s home. While at the orphanage, Kim remembers spending her days playing with a big
doll house that had a little plastic father, mother, brother, sister, and dog. She loved that little family so
much that when adopted in 1962 by Forrest and Olwyn Carpenter, The Chambliss Home for Children let
her take the little toy family with her.
In 1983, following the birth of Kim’s son Kyle, she was able to obtain her original birth records due to a
change in privacy laws, and discovered that her birth mother’s name was Vinnie Marie Lawson, and she
was 37 years old when she gave birth to Audrey Lee Lawson in 1956, at Erlanger Hospital in
Chattanooga, Tennessee. The records noted that the mother had some medical issues that she was
trying to overcome. The Carpenters adopted 6-year-old Audrey Lee Lawson, in 1962, then changed her
name to Kimberley Ann Carpenter.
Kim graduated from high school in 1974, earned her teaching degree at Middle Tennessee State
University, and began teaching Kindergarten at Daisy Elementary School, in Chattanooga, at age 21.
Then at age 26 achieved her master’s degree from The University of Tennessee and had an exemplary
42-year career in the Hamilton County School System.
My life has been full of challenges, so it was only natural for me to become consumed with finding this
beautiful woman’s roots, but the search for my sweet wife’s birth family turned out to be a huge
adventure. Vinnie Marie Lawson was a mystery, and I was in love with her daughter Audrey Lee
Lawson/Kimberley Ann Carpenter Moore. I searched for a year with no success, but I have the tenacity
of a bulldog, and I knew how important it was for my wife to know where she came from. Kim saw my
dedication, and my frustration as I turned over every lead, and then hit a wall. She said many times that
was ok to give up, but I’m a Moore, and giving up is not something in my family’s DNA.
The name Vinnie Marie was not common, and it was the main element of my search. I googled that
name repetitively for a year, but nothing appeared until one evening, I hit on the name Vinnie Marie
Johnson, mentioned in an obituary for James Johnson. It looked like another dead end, until I read
further down in the obit, and it listed his two children, THEN…eight siblings (3 brothers, and 5 sisters),
one of the names was Audrey Lee Johnson. I nearly fell out of my chair. Could this be another cruel
dead-end lead? It was the best lead I had in over a year of searching so I began to google James
Johnson’s children’s names and found a phone number. I called the number, and it rang, with no way to
leave a message. I tried calling that number for about 2 weeks. Then one evening we were sitting in the
living room, and I dialed the number once again, and a lady answered the phone.
During the time I had searched, I never thought about what I would say to whoever answered the
phone, so I just asked if she knew James Johnson, and she hesitated for a moment then said yes, that is
my father and he recently passed away. I mentioned that I saw the name Vinnie Marie Johnson in the
obituary, and she said yes, that was my grandmother. I asked if Vinnie Marie Lawson was the same
person, and she said yes, Lawson was my grandmother’s family name. My heart started pounding, and I
told her that my wife Kim had been in an orphanage from an infant until adopted at six years old, and
her birth name was Audrey Lee. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard such a joyful scream! The woman was
crying and shouting “we’ve found Aunt Audrey!” She calmed a bit and explained that her father James,
was one of Audrey’s seven siblings, and that Audrey was the youngest. I began to cry and with a river of
tears running down my face I went to Kim who was asking “what is wrong? are you ok? who are you
talking to?” The only thing I could manage to say was “your birth name is not Lawson, it is Johnson, and
this is your niece, Lisa Johnson, and handed her the phone. For the first time in her life, Audrey Lee
Johnson connected with a blood relative, discovered that she was the youngest of eight siblings, and
two generations had been looking for her ever since she was a baby.
Facebook blew up with Kim’s siblings, nieces, nephews, and we quickly learned that the Johnson family
was huge, and we saw pics of women being posted on social media and they resembled Kim. We began
to get dozens of friend requests, and I watched my Kimmie become like a kid on Christmas morning! Her
face glowed, and her blue eyes sparkled as she grinned and laughed at all the postings on Facebook. We
wanted to meet but where, when, and how?
It was my love for family, adventure, and the tenacity that I had inherited, along with divine intervention
that enabled me to give my wife, the gift of a lifetime. The family hastily looked for a meeting place, and
the quickest was Cracker Barrel in Ringgold, Georgia, only a couple of miles from our home. We had my
Moore family reunion in South Pittsburg, on that Sunday, and with their blessings, we left early to meet
Kim’s family later that day. We pulled into the parking lot at Cracker Barrel, and saw a crowd of people
standing outside, we assumed waiting to get into the busy restaurant. As we neared the front of the
restaurant, that big crowd opened their arms, to welcome and embrace this long, lost little blonde lady
that was getting ready to be overwhelmed by a sea of loving family. I immediately turned on my cell
video, and the footage takes my breath away, every time I see it. Audrey Lee Johnson / Kimberley Ann
Carpenter Moore, had found her family, and their lifelong search had come to a very happy ending.
Once again, my life had intersected with other travelers on this journey and another angel had pointed
the way for me to go. This time, the angel was James Johnson, Kim’s brother, helping his baby sister
connect with her family, by way of his obituary.
Here’s the video:
The photo of children on a slide was taken at the Chambliss Home for Children around 1959. Kim is the little blonde girl at the bottom of the slide, and the photo of toys is what she left the orphanage with in 1962.
What a beautiful labor of love…