Can I recover My Documents from an XP Installation?
August 24, 2008 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Will an installation of XP over 98 re-write over My Documents?

Does XP not rename the old My Documents when it is installing itself and if not and the folder isn't given another name is it rewritten and the contents lost forever or is there some way to get the contents of that original MD back?
posted by watercarrier to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Where are you looking for the old "My Documents" directory? An upgrade installation (that is, one which doesn't format your disk) won't touch the old directory, but as you know the old "My Documents" is located elsewhere on the disk than the new one: most likely in the WINDOWS directory of the root, or WINDOWS\Users\(something), depending on if the old Windows 98 installation had multiple accounts.

The Windows installer is guilty of a great many crimes of poor design, but arbitrarily destroying documents isn't typically one of them.
posted by majick at 2:43 PM on August 24, 2008

This is an old saga. I had 10 years worth of writing on 98 stored in the MD folder, when I did an installation of XP (upgrade) I restarted windows only to find the MD folder EMPTY - tried to find another copy of it somewhere maybe named MD1 - nothing. I figured all was lost, grieved and started over. Literally. Then a couple of days ago someone suggested that it wasn't all lost and maybe it could be recovered - so thought I'd check that out. Would be super cool nice if that was the case and all my word suddenly reappeared out of some unknown place in some unknown directory under some unknown name. But look for it - I did. A lot. And nada.
posted by watercarrier at 2:52 PM on August 24, 2008

did you search the whole C:\ drive for one of the names of the missing files?

Also, I'm sure many people will be along shortly to lecture you about backing up your work, but allow me to be the first:

YOU NEED TO BACK UP YOUR WORK! You need to do it all the time, but especially during any futzing around with the OS. External hardrive, web server, gmail it to yourself, whatever. I actually prefer to backup on a remote server, so even if all my computers and drives were destroyed by a fire or earthquake hitting my apartment, the backups would survive.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:00 PM on August 24, 2008

"I restarted windows only to find the MD folder EMPTY "

Which "My Documents"? "[T]he MD folder" is a meaningless concept when there are more than one and you suspect file migration didn't occur during the upgrade install.

The one in C:\Documents and Settings\... that gets Explorer integration under XP? Or the old one in C:\WINDOWS\...? They are two different locations.

If they're all empty, yeah, you're pretty much boned, although I can't imagine what mechanism might be in play that would cause your documents to just disappear out of a directory.
posted by majick at 3:03 PM on August 24, 2008

Just did another search for MD - nothing - I have a whole bunch of MD's under different user names and admin but they're all basically the same files. XP did rewrite MD and erase what I had. There's no other explanation. Yeah - backup now I do - in hindsight - you know how it is - 20/20. Live and learn. Ah well.....

Thanks for the replies.
posted by watercarrier at 3:34 PM on August 24, 2008

Majick - I only had one folder called MD - the very same one 98 allocated to my OS. Where it lived, I have no idea - I just created a shortcut from My Programs onto the desktop and there it stayed filled to the brim with my stuff till that fateful day when I upgraded.
posted by watercarrier at 3:38 PM on August 24, 2008

You should seek professional help. Preferably at a well known, locally owned computer shop - somewhere you can talk directly to the owner and explain the issue. They can pull the hard drive and do a complete search for your files. It's possible that some of the security settings in XP are preventing you from seeing your old files...

If you did a format and install you're probably completely screwed (though some for-pay data recovery services may be able to help you.) If you did an upgrade then it's likely that your data is still there somewhere.

Good luck.
posted by wfrgms at 3:47 PM on August 24, 2008

sorry to belabor this, but did you search the entire local drive for the name of one of your FILES, not just "my documents?" You never know, it might turn up somewhere odd like a temp directory.

If not, I'd second wfrgms advice of seeking professional help.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:58 PM on August 24, 2008

Longshot, but only takes a second so worth a shot: try going to "My Computer" -> C:\ -> "Documents And Settings". What users show up there? Try clicking in each one, and then see if there's a "My Documents" folder in there. Check it out.
posted by inigo2 at 4:00 PM on August 24, 2008

"I only had one folder called MD - the very same one 98 allocated to my OS."

"Had." Past tense. Then you installed an OS that creates another one somewhere else, so now you have at least two and likely more.

"Where it lived, I have no idea."

Please read what I wrote. It lived in either C:\WINDOWS\User\something or in C:\WINDOWS. It doesn't any more, because that's not where the shell-integrated user directories are stored under operating systems made after Windows 98.

"it stayed filled to the brim with my stuff till that fateful day when I upgraded."

I'll try using easier words, because I get the feeling I'm confusing you rather than helping, and that negates the point of helping at all.

You had a folder full of stuff.

You installed another OS.

That OS seems to have created a nice empty folder for you.

Your old folder full of stuff is not the same thing as your new folder full of empty.

Your old folder full of stuff is either (a) right where it used to be, but you're not looking at it; or (b) damaged in some way, and you need someone with expertise to be looking for it using more powerful tools than those you have at hand, or (c) was destroyed because instead of upgrading the OS, you formatted the disk and installed a fresh OS.

Of those options, (a) and (c) are the most likely, since there isn't a mechanism by which (b) is known to happen unless the filesystem is corrupt.
posted by majick at 4:02 PM on August 24, 2008

IIRC, Win 98's default location for My Documents in a single user environment was C:\My Documents.
posted by sageleaf at 4:13 PM on August 24, 2008

The default location for the My Documents folder in Windows 98 was most likely C:\My Documents. Open up Windows Explorer and see if it’s still there. If not, here are some search tips:

Click Start and then click Search. Select All Files or Folders. Type in *.doc in “All or part of a file name” to search for all files with the .doc extension. If you used Microsoft Word, you probably had a lot of .doc files. Under “Look In:”, make sure your entire hard drive is selected.

Click “More Advanced Options” and select “Search Hidden Files” and “Search subfolders.”

Now run your search. If you don’t see your files pop up….yeah you might be SOL.
posted by Diskeater at 4:43 PM on August 24, 2008

Well, it depends what you selected during the Install of XP. If you opted to format as NTFS which I think is the suggested route during the install then you certainly overwrote it. You can use a data recovery software like r-undelete or undisker to try to recover the docs, but you need to know them by name or at least a partial name. As long as you know that, it's pretty straightforward.
posted by Raichle at 5:12 PM on August 24, 2008

Oops, I didn't mean "Undisker", I meant "Undelete".

Oh yeah, and you might want to decide ahead of time how much it's worth to you before being talked into an expensive "professional" data recovery service. I have used these for clients every once in awhile when software couldn't resolve the problem and it's very expensive and not always successful.

Here is a data recovery software recommended by lifehacker which I have not personally tried but they are usually pretty reliable:

Undelete Plus

Personally, I paid for this one and it worked to recover data that had been written over twice:

posted by Raichle at 5:21 PM on August 24, 2008

If you opted to format as NTFS which I think is the suggested route during the install then you certainly overwrote it. You can use a data recovery software...

Just a point of contention: You can't undelete/recover data that has been actually overwritten, bit by bit on the hard drive. This is why people in the industry will tell you NOT to do much of anything on the computer while you're trying to recover files as data will be moved around and may very well overwrite the original spaces the deleted files were in, making them unrecoverable.

That said, some files may still be recoverable assuming they weren't actually overwritten, or they're still fine and visible on the hard drive and OP is just having a very hard time finding them. As said previously by others, data recovery services exist for things like this (well, more like forensics). You can just google the phrase "data recovery" and such for leads. I've used a freeware called "Restoration" (v2.5.14) or something to good effect along with a few other tools.

I'm still amazed by the number of people out there who have 10-20-years' worth of data they claim to value and yet never, ever bothered with a backup.
posted by Ky at 5:33 PM on August 24, 2008

« Older Help me choose my December beach vacation   |   Paris for the Tragically Unhip Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.