Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sorting Saturday - You've Got Mail!

© 2010, copyright Michelle Goodrum Most of us have heard the saying, "You've Got Mail!" As genealogists and family historians that saying takes on a whole new meaning. In our endeavors to document our work, we collect not only photos, letters, birth certificates, and all sorts of other paper documents but also the electronic kind. That includes email.

Mine is out of control. Mainly it's because I haven't been able to decide what to do with it. You see, several years ago, I had this system. All of my mail came into Outlook Express. I would save the email, along with any attachments, as an Outlook Express file in whatever family folder on my computer was appropriate. That worked pretty well although I did worry that someday I might not be able to open the Outlook Express file due to changes in technology. So I would also save it as a .txt file. There was a problem with that however, in that if there had been an attachment to the email neither the attachment nor the name of the attached file was saved in the .txt format. I figured between the 2 systems I was probably OK. And I was. Until my hard drive crashed...

Most of my stuff was backed up so it was just a big hassle. However, we decided going forward to leave our email "in the cloud" with our Internet Service Provider. It's easier that way since we access our email from different computers. But what to do with the genealogy email? I really prefer to save those with the rest of my genealogy files.

In the last several years since that hard drive crash, I've just been accumulating those genealogy related emails in a family folder "in the cloud" that is my ISP. Ugh! I need to do something, anything!

Recently, someone (I'm sorry I can't remember who) suggested saving emails as PDF files. That way, the file can be saved with the rest of my genealogy files and if there were any attachments, the file name for the attachment is preserved within the body of the email. PDF has become so standard that it, hopefully, is unlikely to go away. At least not anytime soon... The best part is that it should be E-A-S-Y to do.

Just to be safe, maybe I'll save them as .txt files too...

I'm curious, how do you handle your genealogy related email files?

Photo by Nieve44/La Luz


  1. What is the process in saving as a PDF? I have a lot of emails saved on the servers website (AOL) I stopped saving them on my computer due to a hard drive crash that eliminated everything on the computer. This was before I started Genealogy research and I did not have a lot of things important to lose.

  2. I am embarassed to admit this, but ... I handle my genealogy e-mail in a very primitive manner. Mostly I print them out and put them in the proper folders. The ones I receive in gmail are saved in my inbox. Important genealogy e-mail received in my old AOL account I forward to gmail. And that's it. I know I ought to save them as PDFs or something, but my computer folders are already so full of documents ... I know, it's pathetic.

  3. I'm the ostrich who would rather put her head in the sand than deal with this. Ugh! Right now I have folders in my email program and save the incoming genealogy emails into those folders. Sometimes I also print them and occasionally I save them as documents in my word processing program. I rarely get downloads but when I do, I download them and save them, but hadn't really thought about how to connect them to the email. Your post gives me the nudge to think what the best option is. I'm an old-fashioned paper and folder person.... Thanks for the nudge.

  4. Mine are in the clouds too.

    But, I try to handle them as any other resource, study, download any photos or files, attach to my data base and make LOTS of notes about the conversations, who shared what with me, and, then I get rid of the email.

    Sorta - - -

    Some email I do not delete, I send it to a holding email account, named something like

    caroltrashstuff @ XXXXX.Com

    Then, if panic and realize I deleted something that I should not have, I can go to the trash stuff account and find it again.

    Researchers paranoia! SIGHH

  5. I'm not going to be much help, because I've never given it any thought. 16 years ago, I began with AOL, and now use Google. If I want to retrieve a letter, I type the person's name in the email search bar, and it will come up. Genealogy related queries are saved in the Notes Section in FTM for the person to whom the query is written about. I could explain further, in a email if you wish. If I save the person's email address, I will put a tiny bit of info., such as surname they are working on. Then 2-3 times a year, I print out the entire email list, now, really long.

  6. I just have a folder in my gmail account titled 'genealogy''s jammed pack full of e-mails that need to get sorted. Many of them have attachments. Sometimes I will delete the attachment and e-mail after downloading the attachment. If the body of the e-mail has pertinent info in it then it just gets dumped in the genealogy folder. Ugh...I need to get more organized on this too!

  7. My gmail (google mail) account is used exclusively for genealogy related email. G-mail! :-) For those using Outlook, it's easy to save email to Microsoft OneNote. It comes with the Office for Student/Home - with Word, Excel and PowerPoint - or as a standalone product. The messages can be easily organized in OneNote and also saved from OneNote to a pdf file. It's also searchable. Just as a matter of disclosure - my email files are a mess, too!

  8. I use gmail too, so my messages are held "in the clouds", but I have made new folders within my gmail, so I can move messages and find them later

  9. Thanks for all of the great comments! There does seem to be a common theme in that most everyone is keeping their emails somewhere “in the cloud” and using varying folders to file their genealogy email. We probably aren’t as disorganized as we feel ! I know that now I don’t feel quite so bad after reading everyone’s comments!

    Greta – You shouldn’t feel embarrassed about printing out emails. I was doing the same thing with emails from certain people. Frankly I need to “catch up” on that. I have a cousin who has tons of family papers and photos. She scans and send them to me with these fantastic write ups about what she knows or any research she has done. I think those types of emails need to be handled in the primitive print and file method as well as being filed and “catalogued” electronically.

    Nancy – I like your ostrich analogy. That’s how I feel I have been the past couple of years on this issue 

    Carol – You are my inspiration! Notes in the ol’ genealogy data base. I’ve done some of that but not consistently. Attaching files to the data base…OK we’ve talked about that before and I’ve figured out how to do it with my program…just need to DO IT.

    Barbara – It sounds like you don’t need to think about this much because you’ve got it handled. The good ol’ notes section again…I find it interesting that there is an email search bar in your email. My ISP doesn’t have that. It sure would be helpful!

    Susan – OneNote seems to be able to do anything! It hadn’t occurred to me to use it for saving emails! So much to learn!!!

    There’s lots of great comments here! Thanks again!

  10. Claudia - I use PrimoPDF. It's free and you can download it here:

    Once it's downloaded it will appear as one of your printers that you can choose to print from.

    Basically when you want to save something as a PDF, you will go through your process to print the email, file, webpage or whatever only you will select PrimoPDF as your printer and "print" it. What you are really doing at this point is saving the file as a PDF.

    Hope this helps!

  11. I am a cave woman when it comes to Genealogy email. I print out everything and file it in binders.
    The 3" binders all have names on them and take up two 5-shelf bookcase units.
    Someday when I'm old (I mean REAL old) and have nothing else to do.. (ha)I will spend my days sorting everything out. In the meantime, I call my hobbies "accumulations".
    Sorta like some people's basement "decorations". ;-)

  12. Thank you for the information on te PDF files. I will give it a try.

    But the good thing about printing and sorting in neat (hopefully) packages is that in 100 years they could still be there but what will have happened to the electronic files.

    I save a lot of information on a flash drive and an external hard drive. I also have the paper copies. Can you just imagine you descendants when they find this information in boxes in the attic?

  13. Add me as another vote for the PDF option. At Moultrie Creek Gazette, I've got a column called The Personal Archive that discusses options for archiving your family history - including email.