She thought she was doing everything right. She wanted to departition her computer and reinstall Windows. So she backed up all her files to an external hard drive, deleted all the partitions and reformatted as NTFS, then reinstalled Windows. She didn’t remember she still had her backup drive still plugged in, though, when she was doing the reformatting, so she ended up deleting her backup, too—years of work and lots of music and photos. She tried using a recovery program she found and was able to get some stuff back but not all of it (most importantly, her MS Office documents).
Well, she just hosted Thanksgiving dinner for us, so I brought over my toolkit (basically a Linux Mint CD and my own external hard drive) and got to work on it while we ate and did other stuff. The recovery process is pretty low stress but extremely time-consuming. I booted up Linux Mint, plugged in her external hard drive, plugged in my external hard drive, installed photorec, ran it, picked which drive to recover (hers) and which drive to save the recovered files to (mine), and then it took over three hours to scan her entire 160 GB hard drive for files. Afterwards, I copied the recovered files back to her drive (another two hours). Finally, I copied most of her files from the external hard drive backup back to her computer (another hour).
I’m amazed at how effortless photorec is. I’m also glad that once she realized her data had been deleted that she turned off the hard drive and didn’t do anything else… otherwise, I don’t think we could have gotten those files back.