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What Really Happened to the Grand Duchess Anastasia?

Russian history in U.S. schools is usually limited to Lenin, Stalin, the space race, and maybe now they include the fall of the Soviet Union. Depending on your age, you likely learned about Nicholas II, the last Tsar and his family from movies, because it was a very dramatic story. There were several movies about Rasputin, and I would recommend the 1971 film Nicholas and Alexandra. But even more people recall the movies Anastasia (1956) or Anastasia (1997), neither of which tell us much about the family or the Russian revolution. They are about Anna Anderson, who was presented as the youngest of the Tsar’s four daughters, Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna. Anderson was only taking advantage of the rumors that Anastasia was the only member of the family who had survived the assassination of 1918 and had been missing ever since. How did those rumors ever get started? Probably because, despite the Soviet Union's refusal to say anything about the Tsar's fate, there were a few people who knew that not all the Romanovs were buried together.  

In the spring of 1979, Alexander Avdonin and Geli Ryabov discovered the pit in which five of the seven Romanovs (and four of their servants) had been buried. Since the Communists were still ruling Russia at the time, Advonin and Ryabov decided to keep the finding a secret. The pit wouldn’t be officially opened until 1991, the same year that the Soviet Union dissolved.

DNA and skeletal analysis matched the remains in the pit to Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, Yevgeny Botkin, Alexei Trupp, Ivan Kharitonov, Anna Demidova, and three of the four grand duchesses. William R. Maples (a forensic expert) concluded that the two bodies missing from the family grave were that of Tsarevitch Alexei and Anastasia. However, Russian scientists believed that it was the body of Maria that was missing. Using a computer program to compare photos of the youngest grand duchess with the skulls of the victims from the mass grave, they identified one the bodies in the pit as that of Anastasia.

The actual fate of Grand Duchess Anastasia was not fully revealed until 2007. You can read the short version of the story at History Buff.


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