HISTORIANS from as far away as China are turning to the DLI Archives at Durham County Record Office in search of help to discover their heritage.

For almost 20 years, the DLI Collection’s documents have been looked after and preserved in the temperature and humidity controlled, fire, theft and rodent resistant strong rooms at Durham County Hall, in Aykley Heads.

And from there – as well as the families of ex-DLI servicemen – they are helping everyone from a Sri Lankan tea company to an Indian theatre to piece together their past.

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Principal archivist Gill Parkes said: “We have looked after the DLI archives at County Hall since 1998, and over the past 19 years welcomed a further 186 donations, ranging from a single photograph to many boxes of documents, into the Collection.

“Though generally not on display, as they would be damaged if exposed for long periods of time to light and unstable temperature and humidity, the archives can easily be accessed and researched by members of the public, either through a visit to the search room or via our enquiry service.

“The DLI archive catalogue has been available on our website, durhamrecord office.org.uk, since 2003 and there you can view 34,557 DLI images for free. Our Durham at War project website, durhamatwar.org.uk, also makes many DLI archives and transcripts available.

“In the past year we answered 455 written enquiries and around 1,800 telephone enquiries about the DLI archives, with interest from both home and abroad.

“We also welcomed 45 visitors in person – with some coming several times – and they accessed 250 separate collections of DLI archives “Some of the more unusual enquiries included helping the Folio Society with photos for a book on Colditz; a promotional image for a Sri Lankan tea company; information on the history of a theatre in Calcutta, India; tracing relatives of men whose wartime graffiti was discovered in long forgotten tunnels from the Battle of Loos, France; and helping to recreate China’s cultural heritage, which was destroyed in the Cultural Revolution.”

Durham County Record Office runs regular genealogy courses to help people trace their family history. It offers the chance to research archive documents at first hand or, for a fee, expert historians can help you discover more about a particular person, place or organisation.