My hard drive died after files started disappearing for a couple days. I ended up getting a new Mac since the computer was old anyway.

I'm worried that the last couple days of Time Machine backups will be bad due to the dying hard drive, so I'd like to use an earlier backup date from before it started dying with Migration Assistant.

I don't see any way in Migration Assistant to select the date of the backup that I want to use.

Should I just "delete" the latest backup folder dates from the Time Machine drive? Will that screw up the backup?

Any other way to accomplish this?

  • I don't have a convenient way to test this, but I believe it will display multiple backups if you boot from Recovery or Internet Recovery and do "Restore from Time Machine", which will also reinstall the OS at the same time. Jan 5, 2017 at 3:09

3 Answers 3


You should temporarily move the backups from the corrupt/unwanted version of the system to a different location, and then attempt the Restore. You may also try renaming the unwanted backups. For more, please go to:


  • 1
    What's with the downvote?!
    – user160494
    Dec 29, 2017 at 2:51
  • 1
    A reasonable question - I found TopHatProductions115’ advice helpful.
    – user8162
    Jul 28, 2019 at 21:00
  • I am trying to move the backups, but if I try to move them to a different location on the backup disk, it says that operation is not supported, and if I try to move them to my main hard disk, it says that it is not a backup disk. I have removed the backup disk from time machine.
    – Obromios
    Feb 3, 2020 at 7:58
  • I checked at the Genius Bar, and the the answer is that on Catalina, moving the files is deliberately blocked because the consistency of older backups is not ensured. However although you cannot use Finder to move the recent backups, I am wondering if it is possible to use a terminal window to do this?
    – Obromios
    Feb 4, 2020 at 5:30

It seems possible to just move away the unwanted backups and re-linking the Latest directory. A few things to know about TM first:

  • It uses directory hard links, which are kind of black magic
  • It's super fragile, and once this is done, I would format the disk and start backing up from scratch

Now, the finder is ""smart"" and tries to block the user from modifying TM backups by hand. Also the terminal does the same, so no luck. The first thing to do is to rename the backup folder so they don't think it's TM anymore:

cd /Volumes/Time\ Machine # or your disk name
mv Backups.backupdb Backups.backupdb_1

Now the folder is unprotected. You can move the unwanted backups to the parent directory (do NOT delete them), with the finder or the terminal.

Make sure to also move away the "in progress" backup and the Latest folder. You'll need to re-create it with the terminal, it's a soft link:

ln -s 2021-[the latest backup] Latest

Do not include any trailing slash, I'm not sure if this step is sufficient alone to restore from a previous backup, it's worth trying out.

Once this is done, to verify that the correct backup is loaded, check the date shown by the migration assistant.

  • This worked perfectly for me! Was able to restore a computer to the exact date i needed..
    – Peter
    Nov 1, 2023 at 16:20

Just select the drive to restore from - the Migration Assistant will then give the list of backups by date to choose from.

  • 3
    It does not give a list of backups. You only get that window with the Restore disk feature, which cannot be used on a new Mac (that is different from the one originally backed up) Jun 26, 2012 at 15:09
  • OK not a new mac but it did give me the dattes for another mac as well as the same one I was rebuilding
    – mmmmmm
    Jun 26, 2012 at 22:35
  • 1
    By default, Migration Assistant only shows the newest backups. It doesn't show more that one backup for any Mac that was attached to it.
    – user160494
    Aug 26, 2016 at 23:20
  • 1
    Can’t you navigate to the folder of the backup and point Migration Assistant to that time interval as if it were an attached disk? @TopHatProductions115
    – bmike
    Jul 28, 2019 at 21:33
  • @bmike It's been a while, but I do remember doing something similar to that for a MacBook restore that I did a few years back. As long as you have the backup(s) you want to use, it's always possible to use the one you want to restore from. In the worst-case scenario, just have to temporarily move the ones you don't want to use to a separate drive, leaving the backup you want as the latest one on the Time Machine drive. From there, you should be able to restore it with Migration Assistant.
    – user160494
    Aug 1, 2019 at 3:18

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