Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Unless you plan ahead, deleted email is ... well ... deleted. There are some fringe cases where you can recover deleted email, but not easily.

Some of my emails were accidentally deleted from a period of January 1,2010 to August 1, 2010. Can you tell me a way to recover them. I had been procrastinating on going through them saving the information I needed and delete them.

I'm actually surprised at the number of people who assume that anything that's been deleted can somehow be restored. I mean, deleted's deleted, right?

Maybe.

While I don't hold out any hope in the general case, there are sometimes ways to recover them.Typically, they fall into two buckets: ways you have to plan ahead for, and ways that you'd either have to pay a lot for or have a court order for.

If (and that's a huge if) it's even possible.

Planning Ahead

The only nearly certain way to always be able to retrieve email that you've deleted in the past is to back it up regularly, and save all the backups forever.

Typically, that means that you're downloading your email to your own computer, and you take periodic backups of some sort.

"The only nearly certain way to always be able to retrieve email that you've deleted in the past is to back it up regularly, and save all the backups forever."

That way, retrieving an accidentally deleted email - or anything else for that matter - is as simple as extracting it from that backup.

Yet another reason that backups can be so incredibly valuable.

(The "nearly" case that's not covered is email that you receive and then delete prior to a backup being taken.)

Throw Money or Lawyers At It

So, here's a theory: a good email service provider backs up data on their server, and they probably keep it for "a while".

So, perhaps, your email service provider has a backup that was created while the email was on their servers, and perhaps your deleted email is in one of those backups.

Good luck finding out if it exists, and even then good luck getting the email service provider to take the (probably substantial) time to dig it out and recover it for you.

That's where lawyers and money come in.

As I said, recovering something from a months-old backup for a customer is going to be a LOT of work. If they have the backup, and if they let you know they have the backup then maybe they'll recover it for a fee.

Alternatively, if you're faced with a legal issue, then it's possible that maybe a lawyer could finagle a court order of some sort to recover the data - if the matter is sufficiently serious, and the data exists.

And as always, you'd have to find a way to get the email provider's attention to even respond to your requests. Good luck with that.

Me, I wouldn't count on all those if's and maybe's.

The very legal issues that you might be facing are often a reason that corporations, and perhaps ISPs, have a formal "retention policy" that explicitly states that backups, and email in particular, is destroyed after a certain amount of time.

The Assumption You Really Should Make

The only safe assumption you can make is that unless you've set up your own system to backup or otherwise retain things, email deleted months ago cannot be recovered.

Since you're asking the question I'm going to assume you've not set anything up in advance, and thus the answer to your question is probably very simple.

I know of no way to retrieve the emails you deleted months ago.

Article C4453 - September 17, 2010 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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6 Comments
Lester
September 21, 2010 9:35 AM

I've set up my email client to automatically archive all incoming and outgoing emails. This is fairly simple in Microsoft Outlook. If you place the archive.pst file in your My Documents folder, and back it up regularly, then you're looked after.

Nick
September 21, 2010 11:41 AM

Listen to Lester, that sounds smart and
CHEAPER than a lawyer!!

Phil
September 21, 2010 1:29 PM

I backup the entire Outlook Express directory folder to an external drive monthly. This folder is at: C:\Documents and Settings\user-id\Local Settings\Application Data\Identities\Identities Number\Microsoft\Outlook Express

Les London
September 21, 2010 4:31 PM

I have backed up my emails to DVD, but how do I access the .dbx files from the DVD now that I have them using Outlook Express?

Outlook Express makes this EXTREMELY difficult. To begin with you cannot access them "from" the DVD. You need to copy the files back to your PC in the Outlook Express data store folder. Unfortuantely even that may not be enough. Typically you need to save and restore ALL the files from the data store together - no picking and choosing. One more reason I dislike Outlook Express.
Leo
25-Sep-2010

SAL
September 22, 2010 1:05 AM

After a really bad experience with Windows Live Mail - an important mail folder just 'disappeared'. I, belatedly, discovered a really good mail archiving program - Mailstore - which is free for home use but there's also a commercial application available for businesses as well.
http://www.mailstore.com/en/mailstore-home.aspx
it works really well for me and it makes stored e-mail retrieval very simple.

dino
September 24, 2010 5:04 PM

Any chance you could add one of those text increasing links for people who do not have good vision? If I do control+ then the page will not wrap. thank.s

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