HASTINGS, England—Telling your family and friends that you've been abducted by aliens is hard. Even harder is revealing to them you may actually be part extraterrestrial.
A team of self-described alien investigators recently delivered that second bit of news to Adam Chatterton, 34 years old, a normal-looking Englishman. Using a technique known as "dowsing," the team says it identified residues on Mr. Chatterton suggesting he may have otherworldly origins.
Mr. Chatterton, who manages a riding stable, took the revelation in stride. "It wasn't that much of a shock," he said, adding that he suspected as much for some time.
The tests on Mr. Chatterton were arranged by Joanne Summerscales, founder of the Anomalous Mind Management, Abductee, Contactee, Helpline Project, or AMMACH. The British group provides counseling and support to people who have had the troubling experience of believing they have had contact with aliens.
Mr. Chatterton and around 40 others convened last month in this seaside town for AMMACH's annual conference, which aims to encourage close encounters with people who claim to have had close encounters. Admission was £45, or about $75, including a light lunch of quiche and salad.
This year's conference may come at a particularly important time. Ms. Summerscales and others at the meeting say our intergalactic neighbors may be close to revealing themselves to the public at large, an event that would have important implications in many areas.
"It changes everything about everything," Ms. Summerscales said. "So it's quite big."
Scientists say it is certainly possible that intelligent life exists somewhere in the universe, even probable depending on the number of Earth-like planets out there and a few other conditions. But the odds that aliens hit Earth out of the vast cosmic dartboard and had the technological capability to make the trip are extremely low, they say.
Such arguments carry little weight with many people. A Reuters Ipsos poll of 23,000 adults across the world in 2010 found that 20% not only believe aliens exist but say they even walk among us disguised as people.
In the three years since founding her group, Ms. Summerscales, who doesn't recall being abducted herself, says she has been in touch with around 1,500 people who say they have had contact with aliens. People like Mike Smith, who in a speech at the conference said that he had been contacted and abducted multiple times by otherworldly entities—perhaps aliens, perhaps creatures from another dimension.
"I don't want to be a nutter who's been abducted," said Mr. Smith, 64, a traveling musician, "but I am."
Many at the conference rejected the "nutter" label. Geoffrey Crockford, a retired occupational hygienist who is a member of the team that tested Mr. Chatterton, said his team's discoveries show aliens have visited and continue to visit the Earth.
The group spends much of its time hopscotching around Europe, identifying supposed alien burial and spacecraft landing sites. They use metal dowsing rods, which are held parallel and then swing into a crossed position, they say, in the presence of elements, such as iridium, supposedly left behind by extraterrestrials. Iridium is a rare element in the Earth's crust, but is often found in meteorites.
What do the aliens want? It is unclear, but they probably mean no harm, Mr. Crockford said at the conference. He suspects they abide by some sort of cosmic convention that forbids harming other intelligent life.
"The one thing we're worried about is they found out what we're doing, and that would blow their cover," Mr. Crockford said. "Then they might react to that."
A reporter asked him whether it was possible that aliens read The Wall Street Journal.
"Probably not," Mr. Crockford said.
Reports of alien abduction in the U.K. and elsewhere have become more frequent and complex since the 1960s, when an American couple's alleged encounter with a spacecraft in New Hampshire became one of the first widely publicized abduction stories.
"What you find is that they're all trying to outdo each other," said David Clarke, a journalism professor at Sheffield Hallam University who has studied reports of alien abduction but doesn't believe in them. "Not only do you have to be abducted, you've got to have had hybrid babies with them as well."
Take Simon Parkes, for example: a driving instructor and Labour Party town councilor in Whitby, who told Ms. Summerscales in a videotaped interview several years ago that he was taken by an alien he called the Cat Queen, who later bore him a child named Zarka. Also, his real mother is a green alien with eight fingers, he said.
Many discussions about alien abduction come down to two questions: Are they making it up? And if not, are they crazy? But Mr. Parkes said in an interview that he rarely hears such questions.
"The interesting thing is, I announced all this, and then I was elected," Mr. Parkes said. "I'm the man who fixes the streetlights when they're not working."
The U.K. Ministry of Defence was for a while an object of scrutiny for the alien obsessed. The military had a classified program starting in the 1950s that monitored UFO reports, but the task of responding to the public's inquiries became too onerous. The government closed it during budget cuts in 2009, at which point the entire program consisted of one person behind a desk.
"The Ministry of Defence has no expertise or role in respect of UFO/flying saucer matters or to the question of the existence or otherwise of extraterrestrial life-forms, about which it remains totally open-minded," the UFO desk officer wrote in one of many declassified documents now in the U.K. National Archives that appear to contain no evidence of alien contact with humans.
Colin Woodford, a retired British Airways ground-crew worker attending the conference, doubts the government released all its UFO files. "They're just putting out some froth," he said.
As the meeting ended, Nigel Hughes, a member of Mr. Crockford's team, announced a special attraction: "a pair of trousers from a well-documented U.F.O. encounter."
The pants belonged to a man who reported being dragged along the ground in Scotland by an alien spacecraft in 1979.
"We're very fortunate," Mr. Hughes said.
Soon, Mr. Crockford was waving his dowsing rods over the torn black pants, as a crowd looked on. The results were inconclusive.