Much of the research I have done on the Black Dahlia case has been conducted via email, and after almost 20 years, I have quite a lot of it. I have tried to be diligent in backing up my email and copying it from one computer to the next as I upgraded, but I had no way of being positive that I had everything. For example, I used to use Outlook Express, which was prone to vapor lock because of corrupted files – requiring a long and tedious repair process. Some of my email was in Outlook, which saves email in a proprietary format (.pst). Since my upgrade to Windows 8, I have been using Thunderbird.
In other words, like most of us, after nearly 20 years, I had email files scattered all over my drives in various formats.
The problem of archiving email became more acute as I turned my attention to writing an updated draft of the book and I needed to find certain emails from one of Elizabeth Short’s relatives, who died several years ago.
I experimented with ePadd, which was featured in the Wall Street Journal, but I found it hopelessly slow, buggy and unstable. Its sole virtue seems to be that it can archive Outlook email saved in a CSV format, but in general it’s not worth the hassle – especially when the archive was wiped out in an upgrade to Windows 10.
Losing everything in the Windows 10 upgrade prompted me to look for other email archive programs and I discovered MailStore. So far, I have found it to be a terrific program. It’s robust, fast and has archived more than 700K messages in a searchable database – with attachments.
MailStore only handles a few formats, however. It is able to download email from a Web server (Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, etc.) or email in an mbox format. It cannot handle .pst (Outlook) or .dbx (Outlook Express) files, although it works with Thunderbird just fine. For these conversions, I have been using Aid4Mail, which chews through email at an impressive rate and turns .dbx files into something usable (mbox).
Best of all, MailStore is free to home users, and I recommend it highly to historians and other scholars who conduct lots of research via email. I found the email I was looking for and breathed a big sigh of relief.
Aid4Mail is a commercial program, $59.95 per year in a renewable subscription. It works well in a variety of different formats – although not with email that Outlook exports as a CSV (in desperation, you can open the file in Excel, but it’s clunky).
My solution with my Outlook mail was to update Outlook 2000 on a legacy computer that had been running Windows 98 and was upgraded to Windows XP, and let Outlook import everything it found on the computer during the installation. Then I installed MailStore, which found Outlook and archived everything. A longer process, but it was the only way I could get the .pst files archived. (And no, Outlook 2000 will not import .pst files from later versions of Outlook).