Archiving Email

Personal Archive BadgeEmail continues to be a primary communications tool for personal, household, business and research communications. Today, a good part of our lives resides in our inbox. Do you have a plan to manage and archive your important email? If not, why not?

Most of us know that we want to archive certain messages but have hit a brick wall trying to determine how best to do it. There are so many different email systems – webmail, IMAP and POP – and email clients – Outlook, Mail, Thunderbird, etc. – that finding a solution can be a challenge. A challenge, yes. Impossible? Not even.

First, you need to have a digital document management system in place. Although you can build your own using your computer’s file management system, having a document management app can make dealing with large collections a whole lot easier. [See Document Management Systems for more information.] If you don’t already have PDF creation software, you will need that too. With these two tools in place, it’s easy to archive your email – all you do is print!

That’s right. To archive a message, just print it using the PDF “printer” most PDF applications install on your system. Mac users can take advantage of the system’s built-in PDF capabilities for this effort. Why print instead of just saving as a PDF? My experience on my Mac has been that printing to PDF will include all the images, backgrounds and design elements while saving to PDF does not.

Mac print to PDF dialog

The Save to PDF dialog panel on the Mac print options pane.

I use Paperless for my document management system and, as you see in the above example, it installs a link in the PDF option of my print dialog. So, all I do is click on the PDF to Paperless option, then complete the index record shown below.

Paperless index panel.

Paperless index panel.

Attachments in messages are not automatically included. You will need to open the attachment and either repeat the “print” to Paperless steps or you can set up a Paperless Droplet on your desktop (File > Create Droplet > Finder Droplet) on your desktop and drag the attachment right from your original email message to the droplet’s icon on your desktop. Once both the message and attachment are indexed in Paperless, you can select them then right-click and choose the Combine Documents option to keep them both together. If the attachment is a media file, gedcom or some other data file, save it in an appropriate location and make note of it on your message’s index record.

Note, too, that since I use MacJournal, it’s also listed as a “print to” app. Using that I can include special messages in my journal with just a few taps. Think of the possibilities that offers . . .

This system works with both web-based email systems and desktop email clients and it includes the messages in with the rest of your personal archive rather than off in a world of their own. When you search your archive for information related to a specific topic, your results will include any applicable email messages along with documents. You can also take advantage of Paperless’s collections feature to “virtually” organize documents. While you only have one actual file stored on your hard drive, it can be associated with any number of collections. You can have surname collections, record type collections or anything else that helps you manage your research.

I recommend that you keep your “original” messages stored on your email provider’s server when at all possible. They do a much better job of backing up their information than even the best of us ever will.

With a bit of planning and a couple of handy tools, your desktop computer can make organizing your life a lot easier. Archiving important email is just part of it.

NOTE: This article was originally posted in March 2013 and has been updated with current information. And, if you’re wondering what that creature is in the message’s photos, it’s my very talented sister’s latest creation – an armadillo jug.