Posted by Jessica Latinović on January 8, 2016 in AncestryDNA

What research dreams are made of … discovering you’re distant cousins with a professional genealogist. Even more exciting when two professional genealogists find out they are connected with one another.

Prominent researcher Nicka Smith, and Ancestry’s own, Crista Cowan made this very discovery with the help of AncestryDNA. Tune in below to learn how they made the match and the work they’re doing to determine which ancestor they share in common.

Learn about Nicka’s African American research and connect with her on her blog, Who is Nicka Smith?, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Do you have an Ancestry success story you’d like to share with us? Visit and your story may be featured in a future blog post. 

Jessica Latinović

Jessica serves as U.S. Social Media Manager for Ancestry.


  1. margaret

    Great for them, BUT, none of my matches have trees, or the trees are PRIVATE. Nobody I’ve messaged has replied. My ancestors are 1912 immigrants from GB. My matches know NOTHING beyond their US history. It’s been very disappointing for me! If anyone from can tell me how to get more use out of my test, I’d be very glad to hear it!! Thank you.

  2. Bonnie

    Awesome discovery!!! I love Ancestry DNA’s test and match results just wish there weren’t so many trees marked “private.”

  3. sleuthjan

    I understand how that can be frustrating “margaret” but I have a private tree and EVERY time I am contacted by someone who believes we’re related, I check it out and respond to them. Unfortunately, most of my matches are quite distant. Also, with a lot of matches, we seem to have common surnames but no common ancestor. But I am excited for the two cousins shown in this story – very exciting!

  4. This is a message for Crista Cowan….
    Hi Christa, my cousin Carol Morales,asked me if I could help her husbandDouglas (Ball)Morales find some family. She knows how much I love Ancestry, Doug’s parents were divorced over 70 years ago. He still has a teddy bear his father and grandfather gave him. Doug would love to find a sibling. The problem I am having is.. The best match for him is a 2nd cousin, I have emailed and emailed this person. They have not responded. Discovering family through DNA is so difficult with so many private trees and no trees. Is there some way that you could message this person and see if they just aren’t interested in finding family, maybe they just wanted to know their DNA? I would really appreciate any help. Doug is one of those lucky people with over 300 4th cousins or closer but no one is interested in replying. Thanks, Robin

  5. I understand that it is frustrating to come across possible matches in private trees but people tend to mark their trees as private for very good reasons. For me, my tree was public but I grew sick and tired of people appropriating my hard work and painstakingly sourced research and claiming it as their own. Most of the time, there was no connection to me whatsoever and even when asked (politely!) some people refused to remove the incorrect information.
    All this does is perpetuate information that is simply wrong. Why anyone claiming to want to know their family history would settle for any old name that matches one of theirs whether it’s correct or not, is beyond me.
    Like sleuthjan, I also ALWAYS respond to any queries I might receive. Why put any information – even a private tree – online if you don’t want to hear from possible rellies?

  6. Marilyn

    I find it disappointing that to get a DNA they don’t have to even have a tree on Ancestry. They should be required to post some small bit of info or an address to contact. They amount of DNA matches are to much to even bother checking when you have to start the list over each time you go for another one. I understand the private trees but when they go on mine and copy some thing I did all the research for. It’s maddening.

  7. toni

    Amen, Karen and Marilyn, and that is why my tree is private. Those wanting to follow up on DNA tests should try GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA. Email addresses AND tools are available. I’ve found the people who are there are really looking for relatives, not just playing around with what country they’re from or which Indian tribe are they related to.

  8. Donald

    I know the frustration with that Karen. My issue with Ancestry trees(I don’t use anyone else’s) is too many people incorporate wrong information in their trees. I’ve tried to correct people and show them the proof but they just get angry and nasty with me. So I’m not helping people find the correct information anymore. They want Fairy Tale Trees let them have em. As far as DNA is concerned, Ancestry is not the best place as it seems more people are interested in the Ethnic part rather than actual genealogy. I also use FamilyTreeDNA and Gedmatch and have a lot more success at matching people and breaking brick walls there. Course then again I am a little frustrated over Ancestry in general and will be closing my membership when it expires next month. Also going to delete my DNA from it I think.

  9. Marina

    I keep my tree public because I wish to share my hard work……no sense in letting it live in a vacuum. My tree has been excellent “cousin bait” and I’ve been the lucky recipient of wonderful family photos, which I’d never have seen otherwise.

  10. Barbara Jean

    I think that much of the disappointment stems from the fact that we must realize that research is a hard chore. It’s part sleuthing, part deducing and always time consuming. DNA results tell us (1) who our cousins might be and (2) our genetic ethnicity. I keep my tree public because I don’t own the people. If someone else misuses it, I really don’t care. All I truly care about is “Is my tree (fairly) accurate?” Yes, there are many people who don’t answer emails and it’s frustrating. Many people do their DNA for different reasons–they are adopted, orphaned or simply curious. Requiring a tree is unreasonable. While many trees (including mine) have errors, I find that, overall, there are usually wonderful clues–even in troubled trees. I appreciate all the work that other have done before me because it assists me in getting started. I wish that all trees were public but since that’s not a realiity, I simply accept it and move on.

  11. Martys

    Why is there a link to a leather jacket in these comments? I clicked on it by mistake and really, really hope I didn’t get a computer virus. You really should remove it for everyone’s safety. It is against your policies, and the actual comment makes no sense anyway. I hope someone from Ancestry is following and will read this. Thanks so much.

  12. Joyce

    I too find it frustating when ppl have pvt trees and don’t bother responding–I have several “fairly close” matches and some I have even ID’s HOW we match–and emailed them and get NO reponse.

    One thing I HAVE found is if your heritage goes back to early New England (which you might not know as it takes getting over that early 1800’s “bump” to get further back) you can have relations who are distant but appear closer due to all the intermarriages back then. There are many names to look for in other people’s trees that will show you that—so if you get a little bit familiar with the the Pilgrims and early New England names (look in the card catalog) you may be able to tell if your matches come from back then.

    If you click on “matches we have in common” and look for common names on those trees it can help too.

    If you see names like Norton, Northrup, Baldwin (and oh my there are so many others) you know you come from that group of early New England ancestors. A LOT of my matches seem to come from there…

    It really IS a pain when you run into all those”no trees” BUT keep in mind sometimes those are adopted peopel trying to figure out where THEY came from–so they don’t HAVE any info to put in a tree.

    Clicking on “common matches”, searching your results for various last names, and also searching by area might help you narrow things down a bit.

    I do winder WHY people bother doing DNA and having a pvt tree if they are not going to respond to people BUT it is important to check their profile page–it is has been many months or years since those folks have been on ancestry you are probably not going to get an answer.

    Also if people are not active they may have changed their email address OR they may not realize they CAN answer you even if they no longer have an active membership.

    It IS frustrating but sometimes understanding the possible reasons for non response will help you be “not so frustrated”.

    I often check a person’s profile page before I msg them as if they have not been on ancestry for years, that tells me they are probably not really “vested” in research OR for some other reason have let their membership expire—if they have nothing left but brick walls, people may not want to continue thier membership BUT this can be a mistake as new databases come up all the time. The new SS Claims database is GREAT when you can find those on folks–you can get tons of info from those records.

    I agree re NEW ancestry..I keep running into problems that are still not fixed–and spent 3 hours on the phone the other day trying to teach an older cousin how to use it.

    Several problems still need to be fixed like “search for a person in this tree” doesn’t work for me most the time–I have to go to list of all people to find folks…also when you open ancestry we should NOT be coming to a family view–we should either come to the home page OR the last person Facts page that we looked at.

    VERY frustrating to come to that darned family view all the time–esp the way it is now that it is hard to see an entire family in that view unless you make it so tiny you cannot rread it–OLD way waas much better in many respects.

    I STILL want a decent way to print FACTS page in a truncated version without using reams of paper–

    It has been nearly a year now since ancestry came out with this MESS and ancestry STILL has not fixed some of the most basic things…

  13. Bobbi

    I love Barbara Jean’s comment and she is someone I would love to know. She is so right! Some people involved in Genealogy get so cranky. But if everybody just worried about their own family tree, instead of hating the world for not being as perfect as they are, genealogy would be so much more fun. Keep in mind that some people have limited time, and resources and are unable to keep up their work as they would like. But we can get hints from their work, and use it just for that – a hint. Then do your own research and don’t waste so much energy hating. This is a spiritual work, and you will go a lot farther by keeping a good spirit with you.

  14. Diane

    Now that there are shared matches, it’s much easier to see how private trees connect to your own tree. Making notes and following the shared matches tab, can uncover the link. Even their username is a lead. I have also searched ancestry using their username and found queries they have posted. These queries have helped me build a partial tree and determine the connection. Sometimes I get lucky and locate earlier public trees on the web. Many people have public trees that aren’t link to their DNA results. You can still see their trees, by click on the view match tab. Using the pull down bar, go to a tree to preview. You will have to scan the tree for a possible connection, but it’s still another source. After reading many of the complaints, I feel people aren’t using all the DNA features available. They don’t know what they are missing. It really is an amazing research aid. Thank you.

  15. Colleen

    The closed trees on DNA matches are disappointing, even for me, who also maintains a private tree. That being said, I am more than happy to share info that I know to be fact when requested. I ONLY keep my tree private because it is a work in progress and I don’t want to jeopardize the integrity of not because I refuse to share my hard work and the treasurechest posted photos I may have.

  16. Mary

    When someone does not answer, doesn’t mean they are not interested, it may mean that they are no longer associated with Ancestry. I do love doing my genealogy, and will track down anyone who looks like they might be related. Thank you, Mary

  17. Rick

    I have been a member for 4 years. I officially joined this Jan 2016 as they had the half price sale on. I finally jumped at it with the price they offered. I have done a enormous amount of work in just two weeks. Everything I had before was on paper. So now, I am transferring it all over to Digital. Pictures, burial records, houses, lands, birth death, marriage records etc. It is time consuming. I am thankful that when I get stuck I can write Ancestry and they get back to me the next day. I recently tried a search for a marriage of just 50 years ago which is not that far back in Genealogical terms. I tried what I know as I am still getting used to using all the options on this site that I could not get at before I joined. Being frustrated I wrote Ancestry and found out that those records have not been released. Is there not a way that I could have been told this before I spent half an hour looking for them? It makes you wonder if your doing it right, or if the records are not there. Unless I contact someone I don’t know. I find a lot of things I look for just don’t show up. I am now looking for a death between 2005-2015. I would think this would be easy but I have had no luck. I put in the town, cemetery, etc and nothing. If it were not for the hints, I might be in a real mess. I have found many others doing the same lines as me and have a lot of missing info. I will not contact them unless they do me first as one has enough to do here putting their own tree together. You never stop learning with this. And all the new records are certainly a big help. I have taken the DNA last year and pretty much figured that is where my lineage came from. I was surprised though to see Germany in there. My biggest issue with this is just to keep the site as simple as you can so we can all learn and not have to dig for things that should be easy. I belong to another family site and have spent over a month helping these people get things working right as when you post things they do not work. I have had to contact them twice on Electronic issues and it turns out there was something wrong. One problem is fixed and the other is in front of engineers right now. Again, if there was not someone to contact when you get stuck, I would pack it all in right now and go back to the paper method like I did when I started in 1989. The internet has been a blessing when it comes to finding ones memories as you can’t find these things out on paper.

  18. Lindsy

    Understand some peoples trees being public could be for a be a number of reasons why, and hopefully people are dedicated to replying with in a reasonable time, then again we also see when last sign in was.

    Just did a test of my own and excited to see the result have a idea what might show up as majority .but I am sure some surprises will come up too.

  19. Diane

    If you see the message “No Family Tree” next to your matches, don’t stop there. Click on the view match button. The member might have a public family tree on ancestry, but didn’t link their DNA test. If you are lucky, you will see a pull down menu “select tree to preview”. Then it’s just a little time scanning their tree for a possible match.

  20. Janet

    The DNA test for my husband was totally wrong. No one in his ancestors came from the country they said he was mostly from. He is only second generation American and his ancestry on both sides were strictly from The Netherlands and Germany, not England. I believe Ancestry’s data does not work well.

  21. Doug Shreffler

    My natural sister and I both had the Ancestry DNA test performed unbeknownst to each other. In comparing the results, they couldn’t have been different. We grew up in the 50’s with undoubtedly the same parents. Why the difference?

  22. psillix

    My sister and I both did the Ancestry DNA test . It confirmed we are full sisters, but our major ethnicities could not have been more different. Great Brittan: me 37%, my sister 4%; Europe West: me 6%, my sister 45%. I ask, as did Doug Shreffler, why the difference?

  23. Larry

    Doug and psillix, unless you are identical twins from a split fertilized zygote, you shouldn’t have the same exact DNA as a sibling. Siblings share 50% match, with 23 randomly chosen chromosomes coming from each of your mother and father. So psillix, if both of your parents are a mix of British and Greman, French, Dutch, Austrian, Italian, etc.. the chromosomes that you got could represent anywhere from 0-50% of those populations from each parent. It is also just an estimate based on a comparison to a database that estimates these populations over the past 500 years. It isn’t as simple as differentiating between a human and a dog. Even if you think that one of your parents is 100% British, there is a good chance more than one person from their family tree came across from the mainland in the past 500 years.

  24. Patti

    What I find so frustrating is DNA is so vague. I am 17% Native American, but no one can tell me what that means. It could be Native American as in Indian, or anyplace in Mexico or South America. I emailed Ancestry and they explained they could not narrow it down, but seemed to be more worried about the legal aspect than anything else. All I want to know is if they could narrow it down to a country but I guess not, so I am disappointed that it can’t be narrowed down anymore than that.

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