Past Life Evidence in Children

Ian Pretyman Stevenson (October 31, 1918 – February 8, 2007) was a Canadian-born U.S. psychiatrist.It’s impossible to talk about reincarnation in children without mentioning the work of Dr. Ian Stevenson (October 31, 1918 – February 8, 2007) .

Stevenson was the Chairman of the Psychiatry Department at the University of Virginia. In 1961, he started to investigate children who said they could remember their past life as another person.

These children typically started to mention these other lives when they were two or three years old. They spoke about them spontaneously without prompting.

Some talked about their life as a total stranger. Some claimed to be a person who had passed over, who the family knew.

If the past life was one of a stranger, the child would often be stubborn and keep repeating their stories until the family tried to find the family of the deceased person. In many cases, they were able to find the family – and take their child to meet them. The child would typically be able to recognize members of their ‘previous’ family and pick out items that they had owned.

Where Does This Happen?

antique globeMost cases were found in India, Lebanon, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, West Africa and among tribal peoples of northwest America. These are all places where people believe in reincarnation.

Although activity was highest in those areas, Stevenson found cases wherever he looked – all over the world.

The numbers of cases were so staggering that Stevenson didn’t have time to investigate them all. Eventually, his fascination with the reincarnated children won out and he gave up his Chairmanship to become a full time researcher, searching for proof of reincarnation.

Characteristics Shared by Reincarnated Children

toddlerWhen They Start to Talk About It

The most common age for children to start talking about their past lives is from two to five.

It has been known for children younger than two to make gestures which are rarely understood by their family until the child gains the verbals skills to explain further.

They usually stop talking about their past lives between the ages of five and eight.

This ‘age cut off’ also applies to children who talk about their ‘invisible friends’.

The age is when children are starting school and also when many children start losing their earliest childhood memories.

The Emotional Aspect

When reincarnated children talk about their previous life as another person, they may become very serious or highly emotional.This cannot be underestimated. When these children talk about their past life memories as another person, they may become very serious or highly emotional. Many cry when they talk about their ‘last’ family. If they were killed, they show enormous anger when they describe the person who killed them. Stevenson noted that the children with strong cases (i.e. more statements that could be verified’) become much more emotional than those with weaker cases.

It’s not uncommon for children to become emotional and then suddenly stop and go away to play. Many parents told Stevenson that their child had to be ‘in the right frame of mind’ to discuss their past life and that this often occurred at more relaxed times such as riding in the car or after having a bath.

Other children seemed able to access their memories whenever they wanted to.

How Past Lives Affect Children Playing

kids occupations playChildren were observed making references to their past lives in how they played. Some would act out the role of the occupation that they held in their previous life. This commonly became such a compulsion that children missed school because they refused to ‘come out of’ the role.

Many parents were upset by their child ‘playing’ the role of their death – over and over again. This is called post traumatic play.

Children who had lived before as another gender, also involved that in their play. They dressed and acted as a member of the opposite sex to the extent that some were diagnosed with gender identity disorder.

However, these play factors didn’t happen with all children. Some showed a completely normal development that didn’t mark them out as different from their peers in any way.

Past Life Statements

Reincarnated children didn’t make pronouncements showing great wisdom. They mostly talked about what had happened at the end of their last life and people in that phase of their life. It was more common for children to talk about their past life husband or wife than their parents.

Stevenson noted that almost 75% described how they died.

Types of Lives

Cameron (who was five when he appeared in a documentary) spoke about his life before, on a remote island in the Outer Hebrides.No children claimed to have lived as someone famous or as a member of a Royal Family. All lives were ordinary with regular occupations and typical family life.

In a TV documentary entitled “The Boy Who Lived Before” Cameron (who was five when the documentary was shot) spoke about his life before, on a remote island in the Outer Hebrides, called Barra. Barra is 220 miles from his current home in Glasgow. Eventually his Mother took him to Barra and discovered that much of Cameron’s story could be substantiated.

The lives tended to be very recent. Stevenson noted that the average time between the death of a person and the birth of a child who claimed to be that person was around 15 months.


Children usually claimed to have lived as someone from their own culture. There were very few descriptions of lives in distant countries.

Some didn’t have a culture connection but a geographical one instead. There were instances of Burmese children who claimed to be Japanese soldiers who were killed in Burma during the Second World War. These children, although currently Burmese, complained about the spicy Burmese food and asked for raw fish – a Japanese favourite.

Behaviours Carried Over from the Previous Life

When physically faced with members of their previous family, a high percentage of the children studied, displayed appropriate emotions and behaviours towards those people. For instance, some demurred to a husband or became protective towards a wife.

Some of the most amusing reactions were children who were still bossy towards a sibling who was now a lot older than the reincarnated child.

Where Were they Between Lives? 

cameron child who lived beforeVery few children talked about their time in between incarnations. 

The few that did, described attending their funerals and other family events that occurred after they had died. Most said they stayed near their previous homes or at the place where they died. 

A few did say that they had met with wise people and guides in a ‘discarnate’ realm. 

When Cameron (pictured) was asked how he came to be in this life, he said he “fell down a hole and woke up here”. 

Violent Deaths and Phobias

Stevenson discovered that around 60% of children who talked about their death, had suffered a violent end. Those children also came back more quickly than those who had not suffered a violent death.

Half of the children who remembered their violent death had a phobia related to how they died. In some instances, the phobia was the first indication that something unusual was going on. In one case, a baby showed an overwhelming fear of water. When that baby became a child old enough to speak, he related how he drowned in his previous life.

Associated Birthmarks and Birth Defects

Stevenson became fascinated by marks such as birthmarks or some form of birth defect that these children carried.

Boy with deformed ear that matched the fatal shot to the man who the boy claimed to have been in a previous lifeIn around 35% of all the cases that he studied, the child had a mark that matched the fatal wound of the previous person. These birthmarks themselves were unusual. They were often puckered like healed scar tissues. Some of them bled for a while after the child was born.

In the late 1990s, Stevenson published his documentation of more than 200 cases where the marks on current children matched a wound sufferered by the previous person. He used postmortem reports on the previous person and found some fascinating information.

In some cases, children had birthmarks that matched where a bullet had entered and exited the body of their previous person. Others had many marks that matched up to multiple wounds from shotgun blasts that had killed the previous person.

The image shows the right side of the head of a Turkish boy. He has a malformed ear and the right side of his face is under-developed. The boy claimed to remember living as a man who was fatally shot almost point blank.

The wounded man was rushed to hospital where the records show that he passed away after six days. Death was recorded as being caused by massive injury to the brain caused by a shotgun wound that had entered the right side of his skull.

Methods of Investigation and Interpretation of Results

Interviewing Witnesses

tape recorder and microphoneIn most of the cases, the investigators didn’t get to a case until after the child’s family and the ‘previous person’s’ family had met. In some cases, the investigators didn’t get to a case until years after this meeting. This meant that it was crucial for them to interview as many witnesses as they could. These witnesses included the child, who may have grown up quite a bit since the initial identifcation of the case. It also meant that the ‘child’ would have stopped talking about past life memories.

The child’s family were important witnesses, as were friends of the family.

After the child’s family had been interviewed, the next on the list were the family of the ‘previous’ person. This second family were needed to confirm the details of their deceased loved one and also details of the first meeting with the child.

In every instance, hearsay was ignored and first hand knowledge was looked for. Interpreters were used when necessary.

Yet More Interviews 

Repeat interviews were important to get any details that may have been missed during the first ones. Doing this also helped to check if the reports from all involved remained the same.

Post Mortem Details

It was important to obtain the postmortem reports to confirm that the ‘previous person’ died in the way that the child described. This was also imperative in cases where the child had birthmarks so that they could be checked against any wounds on the deceased person.

Any Connection?

When the ‘previous person’ was not known to the child’s family, investigators tried to find out if the child or his family might have had any kind of connection to the ‘previous’ person or their family – or any way of finding out information about them.

Previous Person Unknown

There were some cases where the previous person had not been identified. In those cases, the information given by the child and his current family was carefully recorded and then used to try and find the deceased person.

Possible Explanations for The Phenomenon


This is obviously possible but is thought unlikely because of the large numbers of witnesses, the huge effort that it would take to organize – and the absence of a worthwhile motive.

child doing thumbs upThe Child Knew About the Previous Person but had Forgotten That They Knew

Again, this is unlikely because 

  • In many cases there was no opportunity for the child to have heard anything about their ‘previous’ person.
  • Many children brought up information that only people very close to the ‘previous’ person would have know.
  • The child’s conviction that he identified with the ‘previous’ person.

It’s also worth noting that in the strongest cases with many verified pieces of information, the distance from the child’s home to the ‘previous’ person’s home was greater than the distance in weaker cases. 

Also, this wouldn’t explain birthmarks matching the wounds of the ‘previous’ person. 

Desperation of the ‘Previous’ Person’s Family 

stack of manilla foldersThere is an argument for the deceased person’s family wanting the child to be their reincarnated relative so much, that they credited him or her as knowing more about the deceased than they actually did. In these cases, the evidence would not be valid because of innacurate ‘memories’ held by the family. 

However, this would not explain the birthmarks or cases where a written record was taken from the child before the ‘previous’ person was found. 

Two studies demonstrate how this argument would not hold up. 

In 2000, Ian Stevenson and Jürgen Keil went back to a case that Stevenson had investigated in 1980. Keil undertook the reinvestigation and found that the cases had not been strengthened in the minds of the people involved. Some had become weaker and witnesses remembered less details of the child’s statements. 

In 1998, Stevenson and Schouten compared cases where information had been recorded before the families met, with other cases which did not have prior written records. The investigation concluded that both groups had the same number of correct statements. 


Could the children be obtaining information about their ‘previous’ person using extrasensory perception?

This doesn’t seem a likely explanation because:

  • Most of the children displayed no other abilities that could be described as extrasensory.
  • It wouldn’t explain the birthmarks.
  • It wouldn’t explain the phobias, the child yearning for their ‘previous’ family or the child engaging in repetitive role play.


Another explanation is that these children really were reincarnations of their ‘previous’ person.

The cases would suggest that it is possible for memories, a feeling of belonging, a sense of self, emotions and physical features to be retained from one life to a subsequent one.

This cannot be taken to mean that people who don’t remember a previous life still carry these traits with them. And it cannot be taken to mean that other people have lived before.

However, the cases do provide fascinating evidence that cannot be ignored when evaluating the concept of past lives and reincarnation. They could be the nearest we have come to having reincarnation proof.

Recommended Reading:
Life Before Life: A scientific investigation of children’s memories of previous lives Paperback – 6 Aug 2009

by Dr. Jim B. Tucker (Colleague of the late Dr Ian Stevenson).

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