I duplicated a layer set, as it was more convenient (same style and attributes). It was working fine and both the original and new layers were showing. Then I open it up another day and the original layer looks to have vanished, and only shows the new shape layer (polygons/lines). Upon further investigation the new layer in now referencing the original layer shapefiles, the new ones are nowhere to be found. The big problem is that it resulted in the deletion of all the original old lines/polygons.

Is there a way to retrieve the original lost shape data and to make them reappear on the layer e.g. restoring a file to an earlier date?

I'm new at this and seek a step-by-step answer; links can be confusing without directions.

  • If it's not in your recycle bin it's gone for good. For this reason consider a backup policy - space is cheap, time is expensive. Only enterprise databases allow rollback operations and even then they can only be rolled back to the last compact. Jul 23, 2014 at 21:52
  • As a last resort, you could try rolling back windows to a previous backup, but I doubt that will work.
    – Paul
    Jul 23, 2014 at 22:01
  • Searching on the file name worked for me! ... shortly after I deleted it... I recovered a shapefile I could not see in the recycle bin that way.
    – user78568
    Jul 25, 2016 at 18:55

1 Answer 1


I'm not entirely clear on what you did, but I suspect you've misunderstood how map documents work and the distinction between data and symbology.

Layers are just symbolization. You can have the same shapefile data represented ten different ways on ten different layers in a map. Layers are an mxd thing, not a data thing.

If you start editing, now you're messing with the data behind the layers. And if all layers are pointed at the same shapefile, it's going to change them all no matter which you're editing on. If you copy a layer in an mxd, you're not changing the source (data) path. You have to export new data for that.

Without getting into versioning and other such database capabilities that have to be set up beforehand, no, you can't revert your data edits once they've been saved. Especially in a shapefile.

If you did have two separate copies of a shapefile, it's possible you just need to fix the source pathing on the layer properties source tab to point to the correct one. If you can't find the second one using a search on your files, it may have been deleted. If not in your Recycle Bin, you could employ some data recovery as discussed at this question to see if the files are still on your drive. But the odds start getting more and more remote the further down this path you have to go.

  • 1
    There's always forensic data recovery but as we discussed recently that's not the best option. A good backup plan will save dozens of face-palm moments in the future! As a newbie consider that this is a lesson (hard) learned... Most of us have been there and learned the same lesson the same way. Jul 24, 2014 at 1:48

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