All! I have an issue that neither I nor the contractors that I have working for me have been able to figure out, and I'm hoping you all might be able to help me.

I have several users that are getting email notifications to complete tasks on workflows that have been completed or outright deleted. In most cases, the list item itself has been deleted as well (although not in all cases). In most cases, the links in the email lead to an error message saying that the item in question has been deleted.

Here is what I've tried so far -

I've looked in the recycle bin - There is nothing in it to recover. I have used SQL to try and find "orphaned" workflows. None exist. I thought perhaps the issue was due to the fact that I had disabled the Workflow Cleanup service so I turned it back on. It's been two weeks since I have done so and the ghost task notices are still going out.

I know that part of my issue here is a result of the fact that I didn't code these lists and workflows to prevent users from deleting items instead of properly completing the workflow and I'm working on fixing that now, but in the meantime I have got to find the source of these emails and kill them.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  • Do the related tasks belonging to the workflow still exist? Typically that is what generates the emails.
    – Richard
    Mar 29, 2013 at 15:45
  • They do not. We can't find the tasks OR the list items. Mar 29, 2013 at 17:03

2 Answers 2


We had this same issue happen twice last year for two different causes

  1. We had copied one of our production content databases back to QA for other work. Once it was in QA, it happily fired off alerts from the QA environment though the URLs themselves were the clue on this one
  2. We upgraded a web app from SharePoint 2007 to 2010 but left the SharePoint 2007 copy running in read-only mode for the purposes of comparison. When doing this, it still sent out workflow emails as if it were still a live production site and, since we changed the URLs to point to the new 2010 farm, it appeared to be a valid production email. However, looking through the SMTP headers on the emails themselves told us it was coming from the 2007 farm.

In both cases, changing the outbound SMTP server on the non production farm to a non-existent server name resolved the duplicate emails.

  • I've looked at all of the farms that we have running, and the data doesn't exist on any of them. No data in the development farms. Apr 5, 2013 at 15:55
  • 2
    Go into Outlook and open one of the alerts being sent then go to File - Properties - Internet Headers and copy that block of text to Notepad. You should see a few headers that start with "Received: " followed by a machine name. Those headers will tell you where the message is originating as well as the path it took to get to your Inbox. If it points back to your current farm then we are back at the original issue where there is a rogue workflow. If not, at least you will be able to trace down the machine.
    – Dave Wise
    Apr 5, 2013 at 16:01
  • ours was the copying of a content database to QA, which had emails enabled. Thanks!! Feb 21, 2017 at 20:37

I had come across this issue not too long ago. I was able to find what was causing it in my case. From what I've seen it happens with 2010 workflows and not 2013.

If you go to the list/library that is triggering the workflow and go to List ribbon -> Workflow Settings.

From here you should be able to see the different workflows associated with this list. Now with 2010 workflows, if you make a change and save it, it creates a new version but keeps the old version in this list. You'll be able to see if this is happening easily enough by seeing a timestamp after the name of the workflow.

If you click on Remove, block, or restore a workflow at the bottom, you can see how many instances are currently running, even if they aren't active workflows anymore. This is where my emails were coming from. The old workflows will have No New Instances selected but may still be allowing old ones that were deleted to be running. If you remove all of the old versions, you should stop getting these emails sent out.

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