Researchers at the University of Virginia (UVA) began studying reports of past-life memories 45 years ago. They found that cases in children occur worldwide, although they are more prevalent in cultures that believe in reincarnation. Over 2,5000 cases have been investigated.

Ian Stevenson, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry reviewed published case studies in 1960, before starting his own research. He traveled to both India and Ceylon. There, he used a careful, methodical approach to document the phenomena. One of his books was reviewed by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1975. The reviewer said the past-life evidence was “difficult to explain on any other grounds.”

Past-life cases share many common characteristics. Children begin to describe the previous life when they are between 2-3 years old and stop by age 6. Their stories about past lives occur spontaneously, without the aid of hypnosis. Previous lives tend to be like the child’s present life, in similar cultures and life styles. They indicate that there is a time interval between lives. And surprisingly, in 70% of the cases, they died by unnatural means in the past life.

If the child gives enough information, there is an attempt to identify the person of the past life. When cases are investigated, history is obtained from as many people as possible. The previous family is also interviewed to determine how accurate the child is.

Birthmarks and birth defects appear to match wounds that were fatal to the previous person. Stevenson published 200 cases. One example includes a girl with deformed fingers remembering the life of a man whose fingers were cut off. In another example, a boy was born with two birthmarks on his head, a small one in the back and a larger irregular one on his forehead. The person he claimed to have been was murdered by being shot in the head, with wound locations in the areas of the birth marks.

Most children focus on the end of the previous life. 75% give details of the death, especially when it was violent. 20% report memories between lives. Some describe the funeral or staying in the area where they died. One child said, as a man, he stayed for 7 years near the tree where his body was dumped before following his future father home. Others spoke of entering other realms and seeing other entities there.

The children also displayed behaviors associated with the past life. Many had a phobia dealing with the previous person’s means of death. Some acted out scenarios that the person lived. Those who were the opposite sex in past life acted as the other sex when young.

Dr. Jim Tucker, director of the Division of Perceptual Studies at UVA, has focused his research on the United States. Those cases include 57% boys and 43% girls, aged 4 or younger. In 90% of the cases, the person had an unnatural death. In 16 cases where the previous person has been identified, 14 were deceased family members. Tucker’s most recent book, Return to Life, describes some of those accounts.


Statements made by children who seem to be remembering a previous life may include:

“You’re not my mommy/daddy.”

“I have another mommy/daddy.”

“When I was big, I …(used to have blue eyes/had a car, etc.).”

“That happened before I was in mommy’s tummy.”

“I have a wife/husband/children.”

“I used to…(drive a truck/live in another town, etc.)”

“I died … (in a car accident/after I fell, etc.)”

“Remember when I …(lived in that other house/was your daddy, etc.)”

The Division of Perceptual Studies is interested in hearing about cases of young children remembering past lives. Their web page is available here.

For further reading: Children’s Reports of Past-Life Memories: A Review. Jim B. Tucker, MD. Explore 2008; 4:244-248 Elsevier Inc.

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