How I Fixed My Previous Recipients List and Address Book in Mac Mail

I will preface this post by saying that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a computer techie. It’s true I sometimes teach basic computer skills to adults, and it’s true I dabble in web design, mostly for my own amusement. But if you’re looking for solutions to computer problems, you’re probably better off harassing a random person on the street than asking me.

That said, I’ve just solved a problem that has been plaguing me for over a year, having to do with both my Previous Recipients list in Mac Mail, and my Address Book. I don’t know how this problem started. It just happened one day, and I’ve been making myself crazy trying to fix it.

Firstly, my specs: 1.83 GHz Intel Core Duo processor and 1 GB 533 MHz DDR2 SDRAM, running Snow Leopard (OS 10.6.8). This computer is five or six years old. Why don’t I get a new one? Because I’ve typed hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of words on this machine, and I have a soft spot for it. And it still works beautifully, except for my little Mail/Address Book problem.

The problem:

The Previous Recipients list had stopped working. Normally, Previous Recipients remembers the address of everyone I’ve written to before and auto-completes the address the next time I write to them. It’s a tremendously useful feature, and I missed it terribly. Also, I was unable to remove names from the Previous Recipients list. This meant every time I started typing an address that started with G, for example, about ten thousand addresses would pop up from people I might have written to once in 2008 and who I no longer even remembered. It was annoying, to say the least.

(If you want to view your Previous Recipients list, and you’re running the same OS I am, open up Mail, go to Window, and select Previous Recipients. You can delete the addresses of people you’ll probably never write to again… provided your system is working as it should. Which mine wasn’t.)

The other problem:

I used to be able to add people to my Address Book directly from Mail by clicking on their address and then selecting Add to Address Book. This, too, was tremendously useful. (If you want to do this–remember I’m running 10.6.8, and I have no idea how this works on other versions–simply move your mouse over the address of a person who has already sent you an email, click on the arrow next to their name, and select Add to Address Book. It should work, unless you’re dealing with the same issue I had.)

I searched high and low on the internet for a solution. I posted on, and searched, the Apple Support forums. I posted on Mac Rumors. I wrote to a noted Mac expert and asked him what he thought. My problem had been experienced by plenty of others, but no one seemed able to offer a solution. I found one today, so I thought I’d post this here for anyone else who might be having the same specific issue.

The solution:

I had to fix Sharing & Permissions for both Mail and Address Book. To be honest, I’m not sure which one of these fixed the problem, so I would suggest that you try both. I’ll write this out as if explaining it to someone with very little computer experience.

1. Go to your Finder in your dock and click it
2. Find your user name and click it once
3. Click once on Library
4. Click once on Application Support
5. Click once on Address Book
7. Go up to File (upper left hand corner of your screen) and select Get Info (shortcut key is Open Apple Key + I)

Now you will see a window pop up that says AddressBook Info. Go down to the very bottom of this window (you may have to scroll) and locate the part called Sharing & Permissions. If it’s hidden, click the little arrow so that it opens.

Click the little image of the padlock in the lower right-hand corner. It will ask you enter your password to make changes. Go ahead and do that.

8. Locate the +/- button in the lower left hand corner of this window. Click the + button.
9. A window called Select User or Group will pop up.
10. Locate your user name in the window. Click it once.
11. Click Add.
12. You should see your user name appear now in the list of people who have permission to share. Not done yet!
13. In the column labeled Privilege, click the up/down arrows. With your user name highlighted, select Make Owner.
14. Click the gear wheel button at the very bottom of this window. Select Apply To All Enclosed. It will ask you in a rather menacing tone if you’re sure you want to do this, because there’s no going back. Don’t let this alarm you. Don’t be afraid to make this bold new step. Say yes.
15. Click the padlock again to prevent further changes.

You’re halfway done. To complete the fix that I used with such great success, you have to do the same thing to Mail.

1. Open up your Finder again, or go back to it if it’s still open.
2. This time, instead of clicking on your user name, click on Applications.
3. Click ONCE on Mail.
4. Now get info on Mail (see step 7 above)
5. Repeat the rest of the steps above, from #8 onward.

After going through these steps, I was once again able to add and delete addresses from my Previous Recipients list, and I was able to add entries directly to Address Book from Mail. And there was much rejoicing.

One previous suggestion was that I should go into User/Library/Application Support/Address Book and delete the file called MailRecents-v4.abcddb. I tried this… several times. It didn’t work. I also tried re-installing Address Book from the install disk. That didn’t work. I also tried using Disk Utility to repair permissions. That didn’t work either. I probably tried other things too, but I don’t remember what they were. I gave up in despair several times. But in the end, hope prevailed.

I hope someone out there finds this helpful.