For centuries histories have been passing down from one generation to the next through verbal stories. I have been told that the Plains Indians had a bison robe on which they would paint a symbol to represent an important happening. After many years and many symbols this became a very precious robe. The leaders would share the stories to the next generations, with the robe reminding them of the stories they had been told to safe keep.
Charles Morrissey, while studying for his Master's Degree at Berkeley in 1956 did research on Charles Beard, a noted historian, and wanted to write a biography of him and wasn't able to pursue it because Mr. Beard's papers were not saved. It made Charles Morrissey realize that without the written record of a person's life history is lost.
Charles Morrissey graduated from Dartmouth University with a degree in History, although in an interview he shared that he really majored in good teachers. Through a series of introductions made from colleagues there and Berkeley where he got his Masters degree, and historical circumstances, Charles created his own position as the first self employed Oral Historian in the United States. He has had many high points in his career, including writing the History of Vermont, A Bi-Centennial History, with transcriptions of interviews with Governor George D. Aiken, and the Ford Foundation Oral History project.
Charles was one of the founders of the Oral History Association and has been educating on the appropriate methods of Oral History throughout his career. He teaches the "how to do it" classes at schools throughout the country, including Portland State University since 1979. He is an inspiration to all within the Oral History/Personal History industry.
I had a similar experience of lost history with my paternal great grandfather, Emil Schacht, who was one of the first architects in Portland, Oregon. Fortunately his construction drawings were gifted to the University of Oregon library and an inventory of all the homes and commercial buildings in that collection was made. When asked by two historians researching Emil's impact on architecture in Portland I was, sadly, unable to provide any papers from his architectural firm or personal life. Several people have researched the homes and structures he designed and an inventory has been published. Now I am working to save other family's stories for future generations.