The Romanov Family: The Truth Behind Anastasia Romanov’s Identity

By: Mia Williams | Published: Apr 26, 2022

Numerous legends surround the Romanovs, Russia’s last royal dynasty. The family was reportedly assassinated by a group of Bolsheviks shortly after midnight on July 17, 1918, during the Russian Revolution. Perhaps the most captivating mythology surrounding the Romanovs centers around the youngest daughter, Anastasia.

After a few years passed, the specifics of that fatal night became murkier, and the public began to question whether or not Anastasia had perished with her family. When a woman surfaced claiming to be the long-lost daughter of the Romanovs, things got even more complex. Finally, a century after the crime was committed, the case was officially solved. In the pages beyond, you will discover the truth about the Romanov family and what happened to them on that fateful night in 1918.

The Romanov Family

Beginning in 1613, the Romanovs ruled Russia as the country’s imperial family for almost 300 years. Ivan the Terrible was the first tsar of Russia during this period. Following his marriage to Anastasia Romanovna Zakharyina-Yurieva, the family name became even more powerful.

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A succession of wars and reforms carried out by members of the House of Romanov helped to establish Russia as a significant world power over the course of nearly three centuries. The last dynasty of the Romanovs is where our story begins.

The Last of the Russian Royals

On November 26, 1894, Nicholas II of Russia married Princess Alix of Hesse, and the couple went on to become Tsar and Tsarina of the Russian Empire. After marrying and becoming a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, Princess Alix adopted the Russian name Alexandra Feodorovna to honor her husband.

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Both the Tsar and Tsarina were from royal families in Europe. Nicholas was the son of Alexander III and Maria Feodorovna. Alexandra was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

The Children of the Romanovs

The couple had four daughters – Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia – and one son, Alexei, who was the heir apparent to the throne. Despite their royal bloodlines, they raised the Romanov children in a modest manner.

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They slept on rough cots with no pillows, had daily cold baths, and were never addressed by their regal titles. Olga and Tatiana, the older sisters, were dubbed the “Big Pair” and slept in the same room as each other, while Maria and Anastasia, the younger sisters, were dubbed “The Little Pair.” The initials “OTMA” were a common moniker for the four sisters.

Anastasia Nikolaevna, the Grand Duchess of Russia

When their fourth daughter, Anastasia, was born on June 18, 1901, Nicholas and Alexandra were a little disappointed since they had hoped to have a son who would succeed Nicholas as Emperor of the Russian Empire.

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However, Anastasia proved to be a remarkable child who stood out from the rest of her siblings in many ways. She had blonde hair and blue eyes and was an adorably plump little child. Many people said she resembled her mother more than her father in appearance.

Connoisseur of Pranks

Anastasia could be quite the bully when it came to playing practical jokes on people. However, even though she was widely regarded as “gifted and bright,” she showed no sign of loving academia, preferring to play pranks on her teachers and household staff instead of studying.

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Princess Nina Georgievna, a distant relative, described Anastasia as “nasty to the point of being evil.” According to one of her family friends, “she probably held the record for penalized acts in her family since she was a prodigy in naughtiness.”

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The Revolution Draws Near

A revolution was brewing in the Russian Empire at the time, and the royal family’s fortunes were about to take a rapid downward turn. Several factors contributed to the decline in public support for Tsar Nicholas at this point, including military defeats, his commitment to absolute autocratic rule, and the suppression of political opposition.

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Protests erupted in Petrograd (today’s Saint Petersburg) on February 23, 1917, in response to food rationing and overall dissatisfaction with the monarchy, prompting the Tsar to abdicate from the throne shortly afterward.

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The Romanov Family's Capture

The Romanovs were placed under house arrest at the Alexander Palace, roughly 30 miles south of Petrograd, after Nicholas I stepped down as Tsar during the February Revolution. However, in August, they were forcibly removed and relocated to Tobolsk, a town in Siberia.

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In October, the Bolsheviks’ Red Army officially took control of the government, sparking the October Revolution. This time, the Romanovs were sent to the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, a city in the Ural Mountains of Russia. Tatiana’s chamber was thoroughly trashed and looted during the Russian Revolution, as shown in this photograph.

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The Romanovs’ Life at the Ipatiev House

The children of the Romanov family were able to amuse themselves during their time in custody in the Ipatiev House. They put on shows for the whole family to enjoy, and the girls took on sewing projects like hiding royal jewels in their clothes so their captors couldn’t locate them.

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As time passed, the Romanovs were increasingly despondent about their predicament. Though they were living in a mansion, they hated being cooped up inside. Sadly, things were only going to get worse from that point on.

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Invasion of the White Army

During this time, Russia was wholly engulfed in a civil war. When the Bolsheviks saw that the White Army, which was opposing them, was rapidly moving on Yekaterinburg, where the Romanovs were being detained, they found themselves in a difficult situation.

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The White Army, which was larger and better-equipped than the Bolsheviks’ Red Army, was almost certain to beat them. This would allow the Romanovs to be liberated and potentially return to power. As a result, they made the decision to do the unthinkable.

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The End of the Romanovs

On July 17, 1918, Yakov Yurovsky, the head of the Bolsheviks’ secret police, roused up the Romanov family and their attendants and ordered them to get dressed fast to be relocated to a more secure place. To put an end to reports that they had escaped, they took a group photograph in the basement of the Ipatiev House. 

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After a few moments, Yurovsky entered the chamber and told the Tsar that he and his family were about to meet their demise by gunfire. Within 20 minutes, the entire family had perished… or so everyone believed.

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The Repercussions

When the White Army landed in Yekaterinburg, they discovered that the Romanovs had vanished. The Bolsheviks admitted publicly to slaying Tsar Nicholas but claimed they had relocated the remainder of the family to an unidentified secure location.

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The populace began to doubt whether the Bolsheviks had spared any lives that night. However, no remains had been found yet, so it appeared plausible that someone had managed to make it out alive. They had no idea that the truth would take a century to emerge! The terrible scene in the Ipatiev House is depicted in this image.

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Is It Possible That a Romanov Daughter Survived?

A rumor began to circulate that one of the Romanov girls had indeed managed to leave the basement room alive on that horrific July night. Between 1918 and 1928, a slew of women came forward pretending to be Anastasia.

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Everyone knew that Anastasia was the heiress to the opulent Romanov wealth, which explains why so many women wanted to be her. The majority of these claims were immediately found to be untrue, but one woman, who became known as “Anna Anderson,” turned the case on its head completely.

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The Unidentified Woman

An unidentified young woman was committed to a mental institution in Germany in 1920, and she refused to divulge her identity. For six months, she could not talk or identify herself, gaining the nickname “Ms. Unknown”. Then, for the first time in six months, she began to speak – with a Russian accent.

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A fellow patient at the hospital, a woman named Clara Peuthert, felt that Ms. Unknown could be one of the long-lost Romanov daughters. She speculated that it may have been Tatiana, who had been reported missing. So, Clara went out to discover the identity of Ms. Unknown as soon as she was released from the hospital.

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Could Ms. Unknown Be Tatiana?

Clara arranged for Ms. Unknown to meet with a number of Russian exiles who had previously had contact with the Romanov family. Nearly every one of them was sure that Ms. Unknown was definitely a Romanov daughter.

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However, Ms. Unknown hardly spoke to any of the guests and never confirmed or denied her identity. Visitors quickly realized that she resembled Tatiana Romanov so well that they couldn’t believe she wasn’t the real deal. Olga and Tatiana are shown in this photograph.

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The Objections Begin to Flood in

It was just a matter of time until someone objected to the claim that Ms. Unknown was the daughter of a Russian Tsar. Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, a former lady-in-waiting to the Tsarina, was the first to express her thoughts on the issue.

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As soon as the Baroness laid eyes on Ms. Unknown, she saw that while she resembled Tatiana, she was significantly shorter. “I never said I was Tatiana,” remarked Ms. Unknown, who had rarely talked to any of the guests presented to her up until that point.

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Anna Anderson

After Ms. Unknown made such a vague comment, it was speculated that she was, in fact, still a Romanov daughter, but not Tatiana. Following that, Captain Nicholas von Schwabe, who worked as the Dowager Empress’ bodyguard, paid a visit to the mental hospital.

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He handed Ms. Unknown a list of the Romanov girls’ names, and she began to cross off every name on the list except for Anastasia’s. From that point on, Ms. Unknown was referred to as “Anna Anderson.”

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Anna's Discharge from the Psychiatric Institution

It took two years for Anna Anderson to be discharged from the psychiatric hospital where she was first admitted, and that happened in 1922. People who were certain she was the long-lost Romanov daughter and those who disputed this story continued to interrogate her for years.

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She visited with House of Romanov’s extended relatives and mentioned facts that only the genuine Anastasia could have known. There was also a significant similarity in their physical appearance. However, the mystery was still unsolved.

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Was It All A Ruse?

Anna Anderson would often refuse to interact with visitors, adding to the confusion. Captain von Schwabe once brought her a Bible with a passcode only a Romanov could decipher. In a frenzy of wrath, Anna tore the page to shreds.

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She also met with the Romanovs’ long-time acquaintance Zina Tolstoi. When Zina started playing a song on the piano that she had once played for the Romanov kids, Anna slumped on the couch in tears, and they grieved together. Could it be that recalling her early memories was too difficult for her? Or was it all a sham? After all, Anastasia was infamous for her childish pranks.

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Princess Irene Visits Anna

Officer Franz Grünberg persuaded Princess Irene of Prussia to join him and Anna Anderson for dinner on another occasion. Anastasia’s aunt, Princess Irene, was sure to know if Anna was the genuine Anastasia. So Grünberg brought Princess Irene to Anna under a fictitious name to protect her identity.

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Anna got up from the table and walked away, apparently enraged. Irene followed her, wondering whether she knew her, but ultimately decided Anna was not Anastasia. Anna later claimed she stormed out because her own aunt had tried to prove she was a fraud. Alexandra Feodorovna and Princess Irene are shown in the photograph above.

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Gleb Botkin Meets Anna

Anna Anderson first encountered Gleb Botkin in 1927. Gleb was the son of Yevgeny Botkin, the Romanov household doctor. When Gleb and Anna first met, he was sure that Anna was the genuine Anastasia, and he rapidly became her most ardent advocate.

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Because of this, he sought the counsel of a New York City attorney, Edward Fallows. In order to have access to the Romanov family’s riches, she would need official recognition as Anastasia Romanov. The case would go on to be the longest in German history.

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Physical and Psychological Evaluations

Forensic professionals evaluated Anna during the investigation to see if there were any parallels between her and Anastasia. They discovered that the two were remarkably identical, right down to Anastasia’s scar from mole removal. Dr. Otto Reche, a world-renowned anthropologist and criminologist, stated that “such coincidence between two human faces is not feasible unless they are the same person or identical twins.”

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Psychological tests were also conducted on Anna, and she was apparently deemed to be free of any mental health issues. “It seems impossible that her knowledge of numerous small details is based on anything but her own personal experience,” remarked another doctor, Dr. Lothar Nobel.

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Memory Problems

However, a few people doubted that Anna Anderson was the real Anastasia for a variety of reasons. The actual Anastasia, for example, could communicate in English, French, and Russian, whereas Anna Anderson could barely communicate in any of those languages.

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However, Anna and her supporters said that she had a persistent mental disorder that caused her memory to fail at times, countering that claim. Nevertheless, there was still a lot on the line, including the Romanov family wealth, so the battle went on.

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Franziska Schanzkowska: Who Is She?

The Grand Duke of Hesse (Anastasia’s real-life uncle) doubted that Anna Anderson was the true Anastasia after a guy named Felix Schanzkowska claimed that Anna looked remarkably like his long-lost sister, Franziska. So, he recruited his own private investigator to figure out who Anna Anderson really was.

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According to the investigator, Anna was actually Franziska, a Polish factory worker who had a history of mental illness and went missing in 1920. By this time, the case had garnered widespread attention, inspiring a French play and a film titled Anastasia, starring Ingrid Bergman.

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Case Solved

Anna Anderson’s case was officially closed in 1970 by a German court, claiming insufficient evidence on either side. “How shall I tell you who I am? In which way? Can you tell me that? Can you really prove to me who you are? It’s up to you whether or not you believe it. It doesn’t really matter,” Anna Anderson said in a 1978 interview.

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Anna Anderson died of pneumonia in 1984 after having stuck to her claim of being the actual Anastasia Romanov throughout her life. In the end, the Duchess of Mecklenburg received the Romanov family’s riches.

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An Unbelievable Discovery

Nobody knew where the Romanov family remains were, so for the longest time, no one could confirm or deny if the Bolsheviks had executed every member of the Romanov family. Eventually, a geologist named Alexander Avdonin heard reports of a probable Romanov tomb near the Yekaterinburg mansion. He went seeking it in 1979.

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The bones of the lost royal family were discovered, which was both terrifying and magnificent. Alexei and one of the young girls, however, remained unaccounted for. Could this indicate they had survived after all? Before they could discover more, Avdonin and his crew had to return the bones to their burial site because they feared the Soviet government’s reaction.

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The Note of Yurovsky

The Yurovsky Note was discovered in 1989, and it was a crucial piece of the puzzle. It revealed a few essential details concerning the fateful night of the Romanovs’ last day in a note penned by Yakov Yurovsky himself. 

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The message stated that after the incident, the remains were concealed in a bonfire and then buried in a woodland mine. However, the mine turned out to be too shallow for the entire family, so they moved the bodies of Alexei and one of the family’s young daughters to a different spot nearby. The mystery was finally coming together!

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The Completion of the Puzzle

After some time, the Russian government began to loosen its grip on the Romanov case, and a thorough analysis was conducted in 1991. Using DNA testing, Avdonin and his team were able to identify the remains of five members of the Romanov family.

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For this purpose, they compared their DNA to that of British nobility at the time, including Prince Philip, the grand-nephew of Tsarina Alexandra. But it wasn’t until 2007 that a forensics enthusiast named Sergei Plotnikov discovered the bones of the two lost children. He revealed to The Guardian, “it was evident that they didn’t die peacefully.”

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Connecting the Pieces Using DNA Evidence

An investigation into Anna Anderson’s ancestry was carried out in 1994 to determine whether or not she was linked to the Romanovs. They tested a DNA sample that was taken from her intestines during a surgical procedure.

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Finally, they found that she was not linked to the Romanovs in any way. For the first time, researchers confirmed Anna Anderson’s identity after all these years by comparing her DNA to that of Karl Maucher, a grand-nephew of Franziska Schanzkowska.

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The Russian Orthodox Church Condemns the Results

The Romanov family was buried in Saint Petersburg in 1998, except for Alexei and one of the daughters. Still, the Russian Orthodox Church refused to grant them full funeral rites, claiming that the Russian government was lying about the discoveries. 

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In 2000, the remains of the Romanov family were canonized, making them sacred relics. Sadly, politics and conspiracy theories have profoundly influenced the Church’s stance, making it difficult to predict if the entire family will ever be buried in the church.

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An Endless Case (Sort of)

Using the most up-to-date DNA testing and comparing the DNA of Tsar Nicholas II to that of his father, Alexander III, and other Romanov family members, Russian investigators concluded in 2018 that the remains were indeed those of the Romanov family. 

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Perhaps we will never know which of Alexei’s three daughters was buried with him at a separate site, far removed from the rest of his family. However, further investigation into the family members continues to this day. What we do know is that on that tragic night in 1918, the lives of the whole Romanov family and their servants were mercilessly taken, and no one survived.

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