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So far in my searches (one two) I've been unable to find an answer to this.

Let's say I had a file, in folder c:\xyz, but have deleted it at some point in the past. I have Windows 7's system protection / previous versions of files enabled for the hard drive on which it was saved. However, I do not remember when it was deleted. Using the search box in Windows Explorer only searches for the file in the current version of the folder. I could manually open up each previous version of the folder to look for the file, but since there are dozens of previous versions, it would be time-consuming, and error-prone.

Using Windows 7's built-in tools, is there a way to find a file in a folder, searching through all previous versions of that folder?

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I do not believe that search capabilities within Windows provides any way for something like that. – Ramhound Feb 26 '13 at 15:52
Windows doesn't keep previous versions of files. There are third-party backup utilities that provide this functionality to some degree, but the stock Operating System can only make regular back-ups. – martineau Feb 26 '13 at 16:38
Ramhound: Thanks for the info. @martineau I assure you I am looking at previous versions of folders right now. It was introduced in Windows 7, or possibly Vista, and IIRC needs NTFS to work. The settings are somewhat hard to find, and spread between two or three completely separate shortcuts/programs, but they do exist. – E.T. Feb 26 '13 at 17:39
up vote 0 down vote accepted

There is no way to use the basic tools which ship with Windows 7 to search through previous versions of folders.

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ShadowExplorer is a free portable application that will let you navigate to a specific directory and export a snapshot. I just tried on my system and I was able to go back up to a week. It seems Windows will keep a shadow copy until it hits the upper limit you have set for that drive letter.

What's nice about the software is that it gives you visibility to specific dates for only a specific file or folder you are interested in recovering.

I don't know how the restore process behaves if you have performed deletions or renames of files and folders.

Microsoft has a FAQ on System Protection which may be helpful to you:

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