|You do not need to cut your ties with AOL Mail, just yet,|
with G-Mail, and most others, you first send out a mass email, telling everyone you have a NEW mail address and to please use the new address not the AOL one.
But you keep your old AOL mail address, and have AOL forward all received emails to your new Mail address.
Over time, everyone will use your new Mail address.
It is not as painful as you think.
As for your old emails, still on AOL, there are ways to export them to your computer so they are not lost, just Google about exporting AOL emails, but since you still have your old AOL account, you can get at them anytime you wish.
If you want to switch from AOL email to Google GMail, see here:
If your looking to use Thunderbird, this might be of interest:
And here is a general purpose way: