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The Smallest Backup Device?

The following article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright 2006 by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the newsletter is available at

I always keep backup copies of my genealogy information and other information that is important to me. As I have mentioned before, computer failure is the biggest risk to your data. I often receive e-mails from newsletter readers saying, "I lost my genealogy data when my computer crashed. What can I do now?"

The only answer is to "go to your backup copy." Sadly, many people do not have such a copy. The reasons for lack of backups are many, but all reasons produce the same results: your hard work is in imminent danger of being lost.

Of course, it is easy to protect all your information by making backup copies of critical data. What keeps people from taking this important step? Time? Expense? Inconvenience? Storage space? Well, I'm glad to report that technology is eliminating the excuses. This week I purchased a new backup device, smaller than anything I have used before. Much smaller.

One piece of hardware that has become popular in the past year or two has several names: USB drives, jump drives, thumb drives, or similar names. Each of these devices contains a bit of computer memory and supporting circuitry. The jump drives are designed to be plugged into your computer's USB port. Once plugged in, these devices act like tiny disk drives. You can copy files to and from jump drives in the same manner as between any other disk drives. Storage capacities vary from 16 megabytes to 4 gigabytes or more.

Best of all, these devices save their contents when unplugged. You can copy most any data to these portable devices and then take that data with you. Many people store backup copies of critical information on jump drives and then easily take them to another location for storage.

I keep a jump drive in my pocket at all times as I find these devices useful for copying data from my desktop PC to a laptop computer, from the office computer to my home computer, or to and from a friend's computer when I am visiting. I even have an MP3 radio in my pickup truck that plays MP3 files that I have stored on a jump drive. The next time I visit my extended family, I can bring an entire digital scrapbook or slideshow on my jump drive to share with them, often using my relative's computer to show the results. I find these jump drives to be more useful than a Swiss Army Knife; at least, I seem to use them more often.

While most of these devices are small, the one I obtained this week is amazingly tiny. Indeed, the name, "thumb drive," suits it well: two of them would fit on my thumb without stacking! In fact, one of them barely covers my thumbnail. These things weigh 1.5 grams. In other words, twenty of them add up to one ounce.

Microvault1 The ctual product name for the thumb drive I purchased is Sony Micro Vault.
Would you believe this thing stores one gigabyte of data? Sony also makes several models that vary in storage from 256 megabytes to 2 gigabytes. All models are the same physical size.

In addition, some retailers are now taking orders for a 4-gigabyte version for about $150.00 or so. The 4-gigabyte model is not yet available but apparently will be released soon.

Individual retailers may offer slightly different prices.

While the storage capability of the minuscule Sony Micro Vault is impressive by itself, Sony also includes "Virtual Expander" software already preloaded on the devices that adds file compression. Text information and databases often can be compressed significantly. Sony reports that up to 3 gigabytes of data can sometimes be stored on their one-gigabyte USB drive. The upcoming 4-gigabyte version should be able to hold up to 12 gigabytes of compressible data. However, if storing ZIP files, JPG images, MP3 music, or other file formats that are already highly compressed, the savings will be much less or perhaps even negligible. I would suggest that you always plan on the capacity that is printed on the front of the device.

These devices are perfect for backing up your genealogy data and scanned family photographs. Of course, they can also be used for a myriad of other purposes as well.

The biggest problem of these new Sony Micro Vaults is the risk of losing the tiny device! It would be easy for it to slip out of sight. In fact, Sony includes a small plastic carrying pouch and lanyard with each device. This simplifies their attachment to keychains or other more "permanent" objects. I don't use the carrying pouch, however. I keep my Sony Micro Vault in the change pocket of my wallet. It is safely protected there by a zipper that prevents the device from falling out.

Now you can store your genealogy data in less space than ever before.

You can find more information about the Sony Micro Vault Tiny at


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Jump drives are also becoming an extension of the ICE number on cell phones. ICE stands for In Case (of) Emergency. First responders are encouraging the listing of an ICE number on cell phones so next of kin can be quickly contacted. While that kin is usually listed in the list of contacts, it is usually by a name that does not necessarily identify the person as being a family contact. The data kept on a jump drive (usually in a Word file because of the wide availability of Word software) includes a more extensive ICE directory as well as important medical data such as drug allergies, serious illnesses or medications the person is taking and the names and telephone numbers of doctors treating the person carrying the jump drive. With an ICE Word file medical personnel can quickly access very extensive and potentially life saving information.

4GB USB drives are readily available at in the $75-$85 range. I bought one there a few weeks ago and have my Legacy files stored on it, among other things.

Regarding David's ICE comment, I would suggest a plain ASCII text file as being more accesible than a Word file. Every computer, whether Linux, MacOS, or PC has a text editor/reader.

There are many programs that can run directly of jump drive. I am hoping Legacy will come up with a simplified version of their program that would run off a USB drive. It would be nice if it could easily sync with your main program on your home computer. This would come in handy when going to family history centers that do not have Legacy on their computers.

Jump Drives are a great idea, though there is a problem. One time my jump drive was jiggled while still in the computer, apparently this can make the fdb file unreadable by legacy and ruin the whole file data, so guard against it becoming loose from the computer while saving data.

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