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Lost Documents

Have you changed your Internet Service Provider (ISP) lately? If so, during the transition, did you happen to lose some e-mails you wanted to keep? Or, how about this: you downloaded or saved a document and for the life of you, you can’t find it on your PC. Either way, don’t panic, because all is not lost! Actually, nothing is lost, because your documents are there somewhere. It’s just a matter of knowing how and where to look for them.

Awhile back, my daughter did not come home from school at her usual time. I called the school, which called her bus and they reported that she had never gotten on the bus. She was missing. So, in working with the school and the local police department, we started looking for her in the places where she ought to be (for example, the school, our street, etc). We then expanded our search to places she was not expected to be, but might have wound up for some odd reason (like the recreation center). Now, please note that I only use her as an example here, because she did in fact arrive home safe and sound later on.

This relates back to your documents (be it an e-mail, a document you downloaded from the Internet or an e-mail you received) in that neither my child nor your documents have vanished off the face of the earth. Sometimes documents (and people) just wind up in odd places!

Unless you’re using a Web based e-mail account (like Google, Hotmail or Yahoo!, for example), you probably have a POP (Post Office Protocol) e-mail account. There are tons of wonderful technical explanations in books and on the Web about how this works, but all you really need to know for our purposes here is that if you use a Web based account, your messages are stored on the Web, whereas with a POP account, they are probably stored on your PC. That way, you can still view them offline.

This also means that they are still somewhere on your PC, even if you change your service provider. For example, when I switched from Infinet to Time Warner Cable, I wasn’t readily able to see my old e-mails from the Infinet account anymore. And that became a big problem when years later, I needed something from them.

The method for recovering lost POP e-mails is the same as the method for recovering missing documents, so let’s address that first. I used this method when a spreadsheet a co-worker had created for tracking certain statistics at work was saved, but no one could find it.

Now, when my daughter went missing, we started looking in the places we thought she ought to be and you do much the same with a missing document. Did you save it in your My Documents folder? Did you save it on your desktop? Did you save it on the C: drive? Is it on an auxiliary storage device, like a flash drive or CD ROM? Once you’ve ruled out the places it could have gone, you’ll have to expand your search, but just like it wasn’t practical for the people looking for my daughter to ask every single girl in every single business in town if she was my daughter, you don’t want to start opening every single folder on your hard drive. Some of them aren’t even easy to find. They’re just in strange places, like subfolders of subfolders and with names like “XZH67FGHY.” Don’t ask me why!

I had to give the police a description of my daughter (height, hair color) so that they would know what to look for. You also have to give your computer a description of what you’re looking for. Luckily, there’s a place to do that and an easy way to do that. Let’s check it out!

Click on Start and choose Find (or it might say Search).

Next, choose Files or Folders. You should then get a screen that looks like this:

Patience will be a virtue here. Unless you remember the exact name of your document, you’re going to have to employ a few ways of describing your document. Let’s start by assuming you are looking for a Word document. First, check the Look in field to make sure it’s set to search the entire hard drive (C:), just like above. If it’s set for the A: drive (floppy) or Documents, for example, your computer will only look in those places and you’ve already looked there, so it would just be wasting your time.

In the Named field, you really don’t have to have the exact name of your document. For example, I’ve called this document “Wherefore Art Thou,” so let’s look for anything with “Wherefore” in the title. But, and this next part is important, since you’re not searching for an exact title, you want the computer to find anything that has that word in the name. This is critical when you’re looking for a document with a name you’re unsure of. You do this by adding *.* at the end of your search term. This tells the computer to search for anything that has this word anywhere in the document name. Let’s try to find this document.

Notice how I’ve typed the description into the Named field. Next, click Find Now.

Looky there! It found it. You can now open that document by double clicking on its name.

Now, what if you don’t know the name of the file? What if you’re looking for an Excel spreadsheet that was saved before it got a proper name or maybe it was downloaded from an e-mail and you don’t know where it went?

Well, you can find types of files by using the same Named field, but instead of putting in a description of the document name, you can put in a description of the document type. You can do this by clicking on the Advanced tab in the Find All Files box and choosing your file type from the drop down menu.

Let’s see if I have any kicking around.

Quite a few, it turns out! It’s just a matter of checking the most likely ones out to see where the one you want is.

Now, it’s time to find a lost e-mail. Let’s say I was looking for an old Infinet e-mail (which had the extension of “infi.net” from my friend Sam).

This time I’ve chosen E-mail File from the drop down list:

I’ve also gone back to the Name and Location tab and entered “Sam” into the Containing Text field, because more than likely, the e-mail is probably not named “Sam,” but it will have his name in it.

Let’s see what we get!

I got nothing! Okay, I know they’re on there somewhere, so it’s time to expand the search some more.

To make a long story short, you will need to keep expanding your search until you start getting some hits. They are there, I promise! I finally just searched all file types for my old Infinet e-mail username “nealshaw” and take a look at what I found:

Seventy files! Most of them are cookies, but several are folders in which the e-mail I’m looking for probably lies. Here’s what I found in my Netscape Users folder:

Mail files, including the Sent ones, the Trash ones (the ones I thought were gone!) and of course, my old Inbox. When I double click on one of those, it will ask me which program I want to use to open them. There are a ton of e-mails stacked in there, it turns out, so I chose to use WordPad or Word. Please keep in mind that this can be a time consuming process, especially if you have a lot of files, etc. on your PC and have been using it for years, like I have. But, all in all, the files are there. If I still haven’t found “Sam” at this point, I can wait until the e-mails are all converted to a Word or text file and search the document with Ctrl + F. (They were in there, by the way!)

One final note: With all the stuff you’ve found in your search, it might also have occurred to you that there are some files you really want, but are gone. I’m sure you’ve heard by now that deleted files don’t just disappear, they get relegated to some far corner of your PC until they are overwritten. It’s sort of like if you have a CD ROM of embarrassing pictures you can’t stand, but your kids think are hilarious. You can’t just throw it away and hope they don’t find it before the trash pick-up day. You need to drive over it with your car a few times until it’s broken into small pieces!

If you find a file of old e-mails or other items you want to be truly gone, you will need to ensure that it gets overwritten multiple times. If that’s what you’re looking for, check out this Web site. A program called Scar 5 will overwrite your specified files about 25 times. It’s pretty near impossible to recover them after that! Do use this with caution, however. This is a case where you need to be very specific, because carelessness here could wipe out your hard drive.

My daughter was safe and sound on the bus she was supposed to be on. (The driver just hadn’t seen her). She didn’t drop off the face of the earth and neither did your files or e-mails. We found the Excel file at my job by doing a search for all Excel files and it tuned up in a folder with some name none of us had ever heard of before!

When you do download or save files, it pays to really pay attention where you are putting them. Downloads often wind up in temporary folders, which you can track down by searching files with “Temp*.*”, but it’s good to be a little more specific. You can also practice by trying to find all the pictures on your PC sometime by using the File Type drop down for JPEGs. Just a thought.

Happy computing!

~ Lisa Shaw