THERE'S a fascinating place in Dorchester where you might just discover the story of a lifetime.

Two archivists are dusting off documents and breathing fresh life into Dorset History Centre. Jessica Rees has been finding out about the latest projects.

MEETING Katherine Kinrade and Luke Dady, the two archivists working on the Heritage Lottery-funded project of the Bankes family of Kingston Lacy and the Borough of Poole Council archive project, they are keen to share just why the centre is such an important resource for the community.

It's the key to unlocking millions of memories, from family letters to hundreds of years worth of official council documents.

In the Poole council project alone, Kat is working on archiving more than 1,600 boxes of parchment and paper covering 800 years. The archive contains written records of the town's history, ranging from its founding charter in 1246 to the current unitary authority.

The Bankes project archive dates back 700 years and is housed in some 800 boxes. It tells the stories of the family who lived at the National Trust-owned Kingston Lacy house in Wimborne and of the buildings, landscapes and the thousands of people who lived and worked on the estate over hundreds of years.

Luke said: "The Bankes Project is three years long and it will take two years to do the cataloguing. Then we want to take the collections out to the world too by talks, meetings and classes – and doing oral lectures and meeting with universities. We hope that the collection will capture both new and old audiences."

Both Luke and Kat are working to digitalise the content of the collections to make it accessible online. It's hoped that by bringing the archives into the digital age, more people in the community will make more use of the resources.

Kat said: "The public will now be able to come in and look at the catalogue. People think of the archives as more of an academic environment but anybody can come in here and learn something new everyday.

"There are other projects and we offer other services. The archives help stimulate memories and emotions and so we also have an outreach worker who goes around the community with our work."

The archivists, who have both studied history extensively, want more people to make the most of the resource so we don't lose it.

Kat said: "I find it hard to explain why the archives are so important. It is just the uniqueness which sets archives apart as you have a unique resource of endlessly fascinating findings.

"If you are growing up and wanting to learn more about your heritage, you can come here. The younger generations are always welcome."

Luke said they hope the findings of the two projects may 'make some sort of contribution to something bigger'.

He said: "The archive is a big computerised system of individual letters, photographs, documents and title deeds that we describe to make it more understandable for everyone.

"The ideal archive would serve to resemble a jigsaw and find out how the pieces relate to each other. Our job is trying to find the context to bring the whole archive together with a meaningful connection."

Downstairs in the centre is a library that can be used by members of the public for piecing family history together or genealogists discovering more about our ancestors.

Today, it's full with people poring over documents with magnify glasses.

Kat said the BBC TV series Who Do You Think You Are? has been both a 'blessing and a curse'.

Making our way quietly upstairs to the archive rooms, Kat said the archives are kept in special store rooms as otherwise the documents can deteriorate. You go through two doors to get to the archives. There's a cool blast as the temperature and humidity are controlled.

Kat shows me one of the older council records book which dates back to the mid 1500s. As I try reading one of the pages, I struggle – Kat points out that's because it is written in Latin, which proves a good joke for the historians.

As we look at more documents, Luke unveils some stunning art work from Egypt in the Bankes archive.

The Bankes archive is significant in Dorset and across the globe. The Bankes family owned 16,000 acres in East Dorset and Purbeck.

William John Bankes, a pioneering Egyptologist who travelled to Egypt between 1815 and 1820, contributed to unlocking the secrets of hieroglyphics.

Luke said: "It shows how society has changed in 200 years and is indicative of their thinking at the time. You get a glimpse of the people back then and what they thought.

"We hope the new projects will develop the archive's audience and attract more people. The projects can develop a sense of community and its history and legacy."

In order to interact with that new audience, the historians are now using social media to share their findings.

Kat said: "Anything slightly different we put on Twitter – we're just trying to breakdown that stereotype and have a bit of fun with the pieces for the audience really.

"You might just find the story of a lifetime."

Follow @DorsetArchives on Twitter or visit