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Recently I did a clean install of macOS Catalina on my 2014 13" MacBook Pro. Before doing the clean install I backed up my computer with TimeMachine, and in fact I have been backing up with TimeMachine for years. After reinstalling macOS Catalina, my plan was to just go into the TimeMachine backups and pick and choose the files that I needed, since the vast majority of what I need day to day was already in iCloud Drive.

However, now when I into the TimeMachine Backups.backupdb folder, I see backups dated from before I did the clean reinstall but they have the name that I changed my computer to after the clean reinstall and they do not show any of the data from before the reinstall. In fact they just contain Macintosh HD - Data, Macintosh HD and Recovery folders, with Users inside of Macintosh HD - Data, with a folder for my current username (and not the username from before the reinstall) inside of Users, and that home folder only contains Movies, Music and Pictures.

In short, I can't access any of the data from before the clean reinstall even though TimeMachine has folders for all the backups going back over 6 months, but they all have the same structure as I described above and do not contain any of the data I need. The TimeMachine disk however shows just about the same amount of space occupied as before the reinstall, ~250Gb.

Is there any way that I can access my old files?

  • Are these TM backups to a directly connected HDD or to a share/NAS? What was the macOS version before the clean install? Have you done new backups since the install (I think the answer is yes)? When looking in TM, have you done Command-Shift-. to view hidden files? – Gilby May 25 at 4:37
  • The TM backups are in a USB drive directly connected to my machine. The version before the clean install was macOS Catalina. I have done backups since the install, they were done automatically. I have explored the hidden files but did not find anything useful, is there a particular directory I should look at? – agileSloth May 31 at 21:10
  • Directly connected drive is good! I don't have a magic wand for you. Since you know that the 250 GB is still there, try looking with other software. 1. Disk scanning tool like DaisyDisk (it will be slow on a TM disk, be patient) and drill down into folders. 2. Try BackupLoupe which is a specialised TM scanning tool - make sure it scans as an administrator. 3. Use Terminal, sudo su, cd and ls -la to look in the TM folders as the root user (be careful). – Gilby Jun 1 at 1:37
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Time Machine can be tricky and sometimes you really need to reformat your external drive and start over. But you could check several things, like are you using HFS+ on your external Hard Drive? Did you repair permissions of your external hard drive with 'Disk Utility'? Is the internal and external hard drive name still the same? Is your user short name the same? You could also try, within the information panel of your ext. hard drive, to ignore permissions and user.

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  • The external hard drive is using MacOS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted). The short user name was changed, the external hard drive still has the same name but I changed the machine's name which I believe changed the name of the backups. I've run First Aid but it showed no issues. – agileSloth May 31 at 21:22

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