History in the making
An inquisitive mind is a young mind – even if it is 101 years old.
Phyllis Cutfield nee Beeson is "a rare bird" as one of her birthday cards reads.
The Papatoetoe resident had "an act of mind" about 30 years ago and decided to find out more about her family history and record it for posterity.
She has spent thousands of hours, amassed hundreds of folders and written five separate family histories – all in long hand. And she's still going.
One of her biggest discoveries was finding out she had a connection to Mansion House on Kawau Island.
"I was amazed to find out that my grandmother was born in Mansion House.
"My great-grandfather Captain James Ninnis, who sailed from Cornwall in 1845 to manage the Kawau Island copper mines, built the first 10 rooms which are still standing today," she says.
She discovered her father was born on Whanganui Island (formerly Beeson's Island) in the Coromandel and that his brother owned the heritage-listed Firth Tower Museum in Matamata.
"I just started with what I knew, which was very little, but after joining the genealogy club I learnt quite a bit and it just grew.
"It wasn't the days of computers when I started. I had to get forms that I paid for through the nose and nowadays with computers people can do wonders."
She holds fort in her living room which has been transformed into a large office.
She's surrounded by archives and photos and a large table dominates the room without crowding it.
Eleven years ago she was given a computer by a son and told: "Mum, it'll change your life."
But it just annoyed her, she says.
"Give me a pen and paper any day."
With such a prolific output and a keen interest in others she says she would've liked to have been a journalist.
"I was blessed with a good memory," she says modestly.
Instead she made dressmaking her career, eventually opening her own school, Auckland Dressmaking Academy, in Queen St and becoming a troubleshooter for Vogue and Butterick patterns.
She married twice, raising a daughter and three stepsons.
Friend Nancy Capizzi reckon's Phyllis is an "absolute inspiration and is as sharp as a tack".
"She's written all of this stuff long hand and she knows which order everything is in and where certain things can be found," Ms Capizzi says.
"The thing that makes her amazing is her understanding of people and her interest in them."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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