I recently upgraded from version 1.0 of the iPhone to the iPhone 3Gs and did so using the “Restore from backup” feature. For the most part everything went fine, but for a couple of security apps that I use, the transition was all but smooth. Without getting too technical, what I learned was that these apps rely on a serial number and when you do a restore, the app generates a new serial number and thus the application no longer works with your account.

After calling tech support, I found that the fastest way to resolve the issue was to locate an e-mail the company had sent me back in 2006 with specific information that would allow them to verify that I was indeed the owner of the account.

That’s when a larger problem reared it’s ugly, ugly head — e-mail archives.

I tend to hang onto things, especially when they are digital because they take no physical space. This is especially true of e-mail. I save every e-mail sent to me and I’ve been doing that from day one. As simple as that may sound, it’s been a long and winding road through a variety of e-mail clients I’ve used over the past 15 years.

As you might imagine, over the past decade and a half and I’ve not always been successful in brining my e-mail archives along with me. I have several “islands” of digital data stored in one program’s format or another. These drives have been pulled from old computers and are sitting in desk drawers, or on shelves somewhere. I could resurface Route 66 with my good intentions of going back to import my e-mail from the old program I was using into the new shiny program that I just had to try.

Right now I’m migrating back to Apple Mail from Postbox and this time I’ve vowed to do things right. I’m taking the extra time to bring my archives with me and it’s a tedious process.

How I Import My Thunderbird (Mac) E-mail Into Apple Mail (mail.app)

  1. Run the Remove Duplicate Messages Thunderbird Add-on to shrink down the archive and remove duplicate messages, if any.
  2. Break up my yearly archives into quarterly archives so that the file sizes aren’t so huge by moving all e-mails within a specified date range (Jan 1 – Mar 31 for example) into their quarterly folder
  3. Right-click each folder I’ve touched and choose “Compact”
  4. Find the location of my profile (~/Library/Thunderbird/Profiles/xxxxxxxx.default/Mail/Local Folders/) and drag the archive I’m importing to the Eudora Mailbox Cleaner icon on the dock, which imports the archive into mail.app. I do this one archive at a time.
  5. Launch Apple Mail, find the imported folder and choose “Mailbox Rebuild” from the top menu
  6. Move the imported e-mail to the proper archive folder “On My Mac”.
  7. Rinse and repeat as needed

Bear in mind, this process is something that has evolved over time. My first several efforts yielded very poor results, but as I tried one method after another, I whittled away at the issues plaguing me until I arrived at a proper solution that works well for me. As I write this, I’m currently working through my 2007 archives, with 2006 being my last archive.

The real question is how I’ll bridge to my other digital islands and import old e-mails from The Bat! and Eudora. Those are of course in Windows and I’m sure will each yield their own special kind of hell as I tear up the road that led me back to these near-forgotten artifacts.

So What Do You Do?

As the last of my 2007 archive is being rebuilt in Apple Mail, I can’t help but wonder what other people do. Am I alone in not wanting to discard past conversations and hang on to these little tidbits? Assuming I’m not alone, how do you handle your archives? Do you use MailSteward, or similar tools?