Conway has a miracle, and her name’s Woodie.
Despite many obstacles and 73 years having passed, Woodie Ann Vaughns, of Shreveport, La., will soon be reunited with her mother’s family in Conway.
Her mother, Elizabeth Johnson, married Woodrow Vaughn, a military man. But Vaughns’ mother died soon after she was born, and she never had the opportunity to meet that side of the family.
While both sides knew about each other, the real search began about two years ago when the Conway family began piecing together their family history, in the process tracking down Vaughns, who has an extra “s” on her name due to a mistake on her birth certificate.
“It means an awful lot to me that they didn’t give up on searching for me,” Vaughns said.
Now, the family members, who live all over the country including New York and Maryland, are planning a trip to Louisiana to meet Vaughns for the first time in August.
“We’ve all visited by phone,” said Vaughns, who is excited to finally meet her extended family.
Growing up in Louisiana
Vaughns was born in 1943, shortly after her mother and father moved to Baton Rouge, La., where they lived with Woodrow Vaughn’s sisters.
Soon after her daughter’s birth in 1944, Elizabeth Vaughn, who took her husband’s name, passed away at the age of 18 from unknown causes.
“My grandmother came, but my daddy wanted me to stay with his people,” Vaughns said. “It wasn’t her fault my daddy didn’t let me go with her.”
Vaughns ended up staying in Louisiana, where she was raised by her aunts. Her father remarried and had two sons while remaining in Vaughns’ life.
“I never lived with my father but he was very active in my life,” she said.
At a young age Vaughns accidentally overheard a conversation between her aunts discussing her family that lived in Conway.
When she asked for more information about the family, she was always told that they would discuss it later.
“The elders didn’t do a lot of talking back then,” Vaughns said. “I didn’t look for them because I really didn’t have any information.”
Vaughns ended up going to college and received a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in psychology, and did social work for more than 40 years.
The search for Vaughns
About two years ago, Carlotta Smith of Conway decided to track down her family’s genealogy with the help of Beverly Myers, who, like Smith, is a cousin of Vaughns.
Both Smith and Myers knew that Vaughns existed after listening to family conversations, but they never knew her name.
“For me, I’ve been working on my genealogy on and off for the past few years, and that was just one facet of my genealogy that I had planned on looking up and researching,” Smith said. “It really wasn’t much of a challenge at this point, considering everything that had transpired.”
Smith tracked down Vaughns by doing research and finding military records, tombstones and obituaries.
“I started with the tombstone of my aunt [Elizabeth Vaughn] and luckily there was a lot of information on the tombstone,” Smith said. “It stated her husband’s name [Woodrow Vaughn] and rank and so from there I researched him.”
Because he was enlisted in the military prior to 1950, Smith was able to track down Woodrow Vaughn’s enlistment and where he was stationed. From there, Smith found the name of Woodrow Vaughn’s second wife and children, as well as the name of the woman who raised Vaughns.
“That’s when Woodie’s name kind of resonated in both places,” Smith said.
From there, Smith tracked down Vaughns’ phone number and reached out to her for the first time.
“I was a little concerned – or apprehensive – to reaching out to her only because I didn’t know what she knew,” Smith said. “This 73-year-old woman, did she even know about her biological mother? Did she know that we, the family did want to raise her, we did want to get to know her? I didn’t know if I was going to be met with hostility or open arms.”
“The first thing cousin Woodie said was ‘Hi cousin!’ ” Myers said.
“I called her up on the phone and confirmed who she was and asked her if she was familiar [with the situation], I mentioned her mother’s name and asked if she was familiar with that name,” Smith said. “She said yes, that’s my biological mother, and I explained to her that I was her first cousin. … We talked for a couple hours there and I told her about everything I knew and she shared her life with me and at the end of the conversation we prayed on the phone. So it was a very lovely experience.”
Leading up to the August meeting, they’ve kept in contact, exchanging family photos and talking on the phone. Vaughns says she has gotten specifically close to aunts Hazel Scruill, from the Bronx borough of New York, and Mary Dale Smith and Lily McCray, both of Conway.
“We’re all calling her and talking to her and we’re making plans to go and see her and try to get as many family members as possible to make contact and let her know that she’s loved and that she was always wanted,” Smith said.
As for Vaughns, she is nothing but grateful for her experience with both families.
“I was very blessed to be wanted by both families,” she said. “Family means a lot to me. It always has and it always will.
“I just thought that it would be nice for Conway to know they have a miracle. It took 73 years, but it happened.”