Step-by-Step Using a USB & U3 Flash key

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These are some simple steps in using a USB flash drive or U3 Flash Key

Using a USB and U3

The USB flash drive or key is a popular and reliable removable electronic data storage device that can store digital types of information. It can come empty or have preloaded information. Another type of USB drive is called an U3 flash key with preloaded software to assist you in copying and protecting your data.

All USB drives will store music, digital documents, pictures and they will allow you to copy software to the drive. This enables you to use your genealogy data files on a program contained on the host computer. USB drives capacities can range from as little as 128 kilobytes (kb) of data to 128 gigabytes (GB) of data. The most common size today is 4GB. These drives are popular in schools and great for genealogy.


At the end of this article, you should:

  • Understand how a USB flash drive works and can help with your working genealogical files.
  • Understand the difference between a regular USB flash drive and a U3 flash key, and how to use the U3.
  • Understand how to navigate from one drive to another using USB and U3 drives.


  • USB : acronym for Universal Serial Bus
  • USB Flash Drive : An external drive that connects to a computer USB port for data storage much like a 3 ½” floppy.
  • U3 : Is not an acronym, but is an icon for the U3 Company.
  • U3 Software : Is an application design specification created for Microsoft Windows operating systems, so that applications can be executed directly from a specially formatted USB flash drive. Applications are allowed to write files or registry information to the host computer.
  • LaunchU3.exe : Executable file for starting the U3 system.

Tips for USB drives

USB flash drives are data storage devices. They have many names. Here are a few:

a. USB Flash key/drive

b. USB U3 key

c. Thumb drive

d. Jump drive

e. Memory Stick, etc.

USB flash drives come in various shapes, colors and sizes, i.e., 512K, 1Gig, 2Gig, etc. It is like a 3 ½ floppy but has a much higher storage capacity and is more reliable. It connects into one of the USB ports in your computer.

USB drives are considered portable drives and they can be damaged or destroyed by food, water, or a sharp impact.  They are not long term storage or backup material. 

Steps for connecting your USB Flash drive

Step 1: Take off the cap or swivel to expose your USB connector. Insert your flash drive into the USB port. The USB port is usually located on your computer (just below where you insert your floppy disk or CD or on the back of the computer. There will be a symbol that looks like a ‘sideways cactus.’ See picture to the right. This is your USB port). Note

If you are in the Family History Library you can insert your flash key into the white cable located near the monitor of each computer. (See picture)

Step 2:Next, you can double-click on "My Computer" on your desktop or hold down the “Flag” key and the letter “E” at the same time (the “flag” key is located between the Ctrl and Alt keys on your keyboard, see above picture). This will open up “My Computer”. If you are at the Family History Library you can double-click on Manage Records on the desktop and then on Windows Explorer. This will take you to “My Computer”.

Step 3:Once you open up “My Computer” to open your flash drive, you will need to double-click on it, which at your home computer will either be the E:, F:, or G: drive. In the Family History Library it will be the F: drive unless you have a U3 flash key, which could then be the G: or I: drive.

NoteThe reason for why the drive letter might differ, is that your flash drive is a “removable” storage so it assigns the next available drive letter. Also, once you insert your flash key in again, the F: drive will change its name to USB drive, or Removable Disk, or even to the brand name of the flash key such as “Kingston".  By using a right mouse click you can rename the drive. Be aware you are only allowed 6 or 7 characters.

Steps for disconnecting your USB Flash drive

Step 1:Makesure that you have saved the documents you have been working on and then close them by clicking on the big red X in the upper right-hand corner.

Step 2: Once everything is closed, click once on the little green arrow at the bottom right of the task bar (see picture). A message in a box will appear saying “Safely Remove Hardware", or “Safely remove USB Mass Storage Device”. Click once on that message.

Step 3: It should now be safe for you to take out your Flash drive. Note If you want to be certain it is safe, go into “my computer” and check to make sure that the “removable disk” and drive letter your flash key was assigned have disappeared.

NoteIf the green arrow still appears, click on it again and it should disappear. If a message appears saying “The device ‘Generic Volume’ cannot be stopped right now. Try stopping the device later”, you will want to make sure that all of your programs or documents on your flash key are closed out.

If you re-try it and the message still appears, push Ctrl + Alt + Delete on your keyboard and then shutdown your computer. You can then take out your flash key or you can re-boot the computer and follow the same process above. You should then be able to remove it safely.

Steps for connecting your U3 Flash Key

Step 1:Follow Steps 1-3 as above. If you cannot get to your files or open up your flash key, you probably need to launch it. To launch it do the following: Double-click on the box in the lower right-hand corner of your screen and click on LaunchU3.exe.

This should open your flash key. You can then double-click on the G: or I: drive.


Steps for disconnecting your U3 Flash Key


Step 1: Makesure that you have saved the documents you have been working on and then close them.

Step 2:Once everything is closed, click once on the little icon at the bottom right of the task bar.

Step 3: A small U3 window should appear. Click on the Eject button.Note If a message appears saying “The device ‘Generic Volume’ cannot be stopped right now", follow the same procedure as outlined in the Note above.

To learn more about U3 flash keys click HERE to enter the Website.


Flash drives are a very useful storage device because of their reliability and memory capacity. Learning how to use them may take a little experience, but once understood the flash drive can assist you in many ways with not only your data files, but using software that the host computer does not have. Also remember that a flash drive is not indestructible, so you will want to use more than one physical location to store your data, such as your computer’s hard drive, etc.