Yes, the VC's are only stored in the catalog. I think this is a big design failure of the XMP in Lightroom. Snapshots are stored in XMP so it shouldn't be to difficult to store VC's for a photo it its XMP
You need to restore a recent backup of your catalog file.
The catalog would no longer even know what folders to read from, because during the messy recovery process, things got moved around a lot into different folders. I do have access to my old catalog, though -- Is there a way to find the info for the VCs and copy it over to the new catalog?
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If you are prepared to put in the time, it might be possible to-
1) Open the 'old' catalog (all files will be 'missing')
2) Filter for Virtual Copies (Icon on the Filter Bar-Attributes). This will limit your next step to the VC photos only.
3) Spend your time re-linking the photos to the originals. This is the difficult part where YOU have to search for them in their new location.
4) When re-linked in the 'old' catalog select the VCs again.
5) [Export as a Catalog] to a temporary Catalog
6) Close LR and re-open your Current working Catalog
7) [Import from a Catalog] choosing the temporary catalog to merge.
Test this method with just a few images- if it works you can then set to work for the remainder.
Wow, I would have never thought of going through all that, but sounds like it will work. When I do finally get around to doing this, I'll post an update. Thanks.