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Sultan: My quest to recover thousands of lost Gmail messages

Sultan: My quest to recover thousands of lost Gmail messages

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I couldn’t remember the name of a woman I needed to contact, so I typed a few keywords in the search bar of my Gmail account. This is my fail-safe way of turning up old contacts.

Nothing came back. That was weird. I clearly remembered our correspondence from a few years ago.

Then, I noticed something even stranger. My inbox said it had about 12,000 messages. Other than spam or ads, I haven’t deleted an email in this account in 13 years. My inbox should have more than 75,000 read messages.

What was going on?

I filtered the emails by date. There was nothing before 2017.

A deep sense of panic washed over me. Much of my work, contacts, personal and professional history lives in email. How did more than 60,000 emails just disappear?

It got worse.

I noticed my ‘“drafts” folder was missing about 400 messages. Whenever I need to jot down interviews, observations or ideas I plan to use later, I start a draft email document with a specific subject line. I started doing it more than a decade ago and continued out of habit.

We can all agree that this is a terrible system. But I did not expect it to vanish into thin air one day.

I frantically emailed whatever contacts for Google I could find. While I waited for a response, I told my co-workers, fellow journalists who also traffic in hundreds of emails a day, that most of my digital record-keeping had mysteriously disappeared. Their faces registered the shock I felt, but then they reassured me that surely everything would be recovered. We live in the Age of the Cloud. Nothing is ever deleted from the Internets.

I wanted to believe them, but in my sinking heart, I knew this was the curse that has haunted me.

I’ve been a saver (some might use a stronger word that rhymes with boarder) of written material my entire life — letters, notes, cards, books, journals. Growing up, I kept a box in the garage filled with letters from my grandfather, notes folded into complicated shapes from my best friends in middle school and even those square Valentine’s Day cards we exchanged in grade school. The summer before my senior year of high school, lightning struck our house and burned down the garage. Those letters turned to ash.

I restarted my collection of written memorabilia and again accumulated boxes in my parents’ garage — yearbooks, letters, college term papers, grad school research I intended to complete one day. After collecting dust for years, my father asked if I could please take my personal papers home. I mailed two large boxes via U.S. mail from Texas to Missouri. A month later, I received a letter informing me that the boxes had been destroyed in a processing facility in Atlanta.

The curse struck again.

This Gmail account had become the digital version of those boxes.

It was just a matter of time, I figured.

Maybe I should burn some sage to remove this hex, I suggested to a colleague.

Maybe you should go to the Apple store and see if their geniuses can help you, he said.

That sounded like a better plan. Oddly enough, my missing drafts were showing up on my iPhone’s Gmail account. I wasn’t able to open them, but the number in the folder showed nearly 700 versus the 250 that appeared in my Gmail account on my computer.

So strange.

I headed to the mall, carrying my history like an albatross. Even the geniuses were stumped by my email apocalypse. Had someone hacked my account? Was there a problem with Gmail’s server? They had no explanation for the discrepancy of what appeared on my phone. They suggested I contact Google again.

I headed home dejected.

Nonetheless, I found a phone number and called support. I was transferred until a gentleman said he would send me a recovery link to launch that would attempt to restore everything that had been deleted in the past 30 days.

A glimmer of hope.

Of course, the recovery link refused to launch. This emotional roller coaster had taken a toll on me, and I demanded an explanation of how this could have happened.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, no one here can help you,” the rep said.

I believed him. I should have accepted this fate hours ago instead of holding onto false hope.

I tried following the security protocol they had emailed me one last time. I changed my password and hit submit. This time it went through.

The rep said it might take up to 24 hours to recover the account, but he warned me that it wasn’t guaranteed to work. I turned off my computer and went to bed.

I had a nightmare of being kidnapped. As soon as I woke up, I reached for the computer next to me and logged into my account.

By God, the emails now went back to 2015. They were coming back from the ether.

I tracked the progress for the next 24 hours, and bit by bit the lost years started reappearing. It was like witnessing a miracle. By the next day, I had more than 76,000 emails back in my account, and strangely enough, all 700 drafts were also restored.

I still don’t know what happened or why, but I’m not one to question miracles.

Perhaps the curse is finally broken.

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