Bill Webb's great-grandfather was jailed for assault and battery in 1850. A relative of Pat Perry was hanged for betraying Confederate soldiers. Betty Jane Mason's forefather brought a shipload of settlers to the Colonies in 1632.
Webb, Perry and Mason are three of the 150 members of the Ventura County Genealogical Society who gathered in Camarillo on Saturday to learn more about how to research their ancestry.
Webb joined the group about eight years ago. Today, the 72-year-old Oxnard resident is the president of the society.
"I realized that this is a fascinating hobby," Webb said at Saturday's gathering. "You learn a tremendous amount about your family's history."
The diverse techniques these family sleuths use to search the past include poring over census, tax and land records, visiting libraries and reading newspaper clippings.
Vera Rasmussen, 69, of Camarillo looked to ships' passenger lists to determine when her grandmother arrived in the United States from Germany.
"The problem is my grandmother's name was Margaret Miller," she said. "There must have been 10 million Margaret Millers who came here from Germany."
Rasmussen said she worked through the names one by one until she found the correct Margaret Miller.
"It takes a great deal of time and patience--which is why this hobby is good for people who are retired," Rasmussen said. "But when you find the right one, it's like a birth in the family. It's a brand-new discovery."
Several of the genealogical researchers said their hobby led to meetings with members of their families they had never known existed.
"I found a relative in Alabama, and when I called up they thought I wanted to make a claim on their land," Ojai resident Pat Perry said. "Only after I sent them information about the hobby did they agree to meet me."
"This is the most accurate way to learn about history," Perry said. "And the best part about it is that it's personalized."