I lost my Unfiled Notes in OneNote due to not planning ahead

One of the "tricks" I've learned over time for my dogfood machine is to set it up as if I know I will need to completely wipe the drive now and then. Wiping the drive is necessary when I need to change the operating system, for instance, or hit such a bad configuration state due to all the internal daily builds of software that I need to run that wiping the machine and starting over is actually less time consuming than trying to undo anything. For machines that only have one hard drive (which is all but one of my machines) I use fdisk to break the drive into 2 partitions and make one of them a C: drive and the other a D: drive. C: is for Windows and D: is where I put all my data, which includes a backup of a clean install of each version of Windows I may need to restore.

This worked well (for ten years) until about two weeks ago. I had to pave my machine and reinstall. I had all my documents and other data on my D: drive as usual, so I wiped the C: drive and started over. A day later, I had to get to a table I had been creating in OneNote which I knew was in my Unfiled Notes section. And that's where I got stuck. My Unfiled Notes had been saved on the C: drive in the default location (under My Documents\OneNote Notebooks). I had forgotten to change the location where all my notebooks were stored. Since all of my other notebooks are shared and/or stored on different network locations, I wasn't worried about them, but losing that one table was tough.

Here's what I'll do to avoid that in the future. Click Tools | Options and then the Save tab along the left.


I can modify where my Unfiled Notes get stored from here. This is a bit trickier than just pointing to a new folder, though, since the target is the actual "Unfiled Notes.one" file. I'll move that file from its current location using Explorer to where I want it (in my D:\images folder, which is where I keep my backed up copies of Windows - I know I'll never delete that folder) and then point this location to that moved file.

So now when I have to wipe my dogfood machine and restore Windows, my Unfiled Notes file will be intact on a separate drive. To point my next installation of OneNote to that location is easiest done by exporting the registry key this setting creates and re-importing it (rather than going through the UI). That key is at


"UnfiledNotesSection"=hex(2):<<<bunch of hex numbers that don't make much sense out of context>>>

The path can't be just a string (as opposed to String, for you .NET types out there) since it can contain Unicode characters, so it has to be stored in a somewhat unusual format.

Next time I need to restore, my Unfiled Notes will not only be intact, OneNote will get pointed to the previous file automatically.

This is kind of an unusual workflow, admittedly. I would not expect many people to need to reformat their hard drive often so this may not be useful to many folks. But it does expose some of the functionality within OneNote and lets me test a way to ensure I don't lose my data for this extreme scenario.

Questions, comments, concerns and criticisms always welcome,


Comments (10)

  1. Vyacheslav Lanovets says:

    In the past good sofware on the first run (or during install in the advanced section) would ask were it should place its data. I would then just point on another hardrive and that’s all.

    One of reasons you call this workflow "unusual" is that wiping hardrive is painful without any support from OS.

  2. mesan says:

    Three words: Windows Home Server.

    Before you blow it away, image it.

    It won’t take all that long, because WHS uses SIS like Exchange.  If you find out you missed something, no worries.  WHS only supports 10 PCs, so you just delete your oldest PC from the list of backed-up PCs and you’re golden.

  3. gmmazza says:

    Thanks for this tip, is helpful to keep all in the same place, I always need to remember to copy this unique folder in my documents.

    Do you know how to backup also the personalized tags, templates and options? Is something that gave me a lot of pain to restore every time I wipe out my machine.

  4. Easier solution: Live Mesh

    I Live Mesh my OneNote folder in Documents and never lose anything.  Even better, it syncs my work notes with my home notes automatically since they both sync to the same Live Mesh folder.

  5. JohnGuin says:

    I have a notebook on Mesh – it works, so long as I don’t edit it from multiple machines simultaneously.  I also have notebooks on different UNC shares, SharePoint and even flash devices just to help get coverage on all the locations notebooks can go.  

    For gmmazza, Options would be a set of the registry keys under HKCUSoftwareMicrosoftOffice12.0OneNote.  Templates are stored here : C:Program FilesMicrosoft OfficeTemplates1033ONENOTE12  (the "1033" may be different if you have a non-English version of Office installed).  Let me find out about the best way to move tags around.

  6. gustavo minarelli says:

    nice, but… wouldn’t it be better if you si.ply change thee locatioon of your my doocuments?

  7. JohnGuin says:

    that’s a good (very good!) suggestion.  Microsoft has a system in which I can enroll that will move "My Documents" to a server and will roam my documents to whatever machine I happen to be using. this is a separate configuration (test case) for us and I am not enrolled in it.  We have other testers that are.

    I could move the My Documents folder to a different drive, though.  I probably will stick with modifying the OneNote setting by itself, though, to ensure we don’t hit any bugs with that setting.

  8. gmmazza says:

    Thank you John, Hope you find that tag backup trick 🙂

  9. seanvaleniine33@gmail.com says:

    I lost my unfiled notes due to not planning ahead.

  10. Eric says:

    Shame on Microsoft that makes the unreliable software such as Onenote. I lost all my notes, and now can not recover them, and in their site they give unusable soloutions. If you can not make a good reliable software, then better not publish it, and waste people's time

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