Faith of Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov of Russia

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Iran’s last royal family after the Islamic revolution fascinates me as a tragic outcome of the Islamic revolution. Pahlavi royal family like its other counterparts in other countries had its own ups and downs. It is full of untimely and dramatic deaths and misfortunes. Russian royal family of Romanovs might have the closest resembles to its southern neighbors in Iran. It didn’t take a long time for the authoritarian regime of revolutionary communist to butcher innocent people among them the Russian royal family.   

During the last years of 1910s, Bolshevik revolution led by Lenin took over the imperial Russia and Romanov family was captured and exiled to Siberia. The sudden and brutal execution of Russian royal family caused a great anxiety among the general public of Russia. It didn’t take long for Russians to come up with stories surrounding the faith of two youngest members of Romanov family. Grand Duchess Anastasia remains were missing for several years and Soviet secrecy provided the pieces for an urban myth.

I want to explore this mystery and add to my understating of a major country in the last three centuries. My main guide in this attempt will be a book by Robert K. Massie called “The Romanovs: the Final Chapter.” I notices a sharp pick in public interest in this matter when Russian Orthodox church after the collapse of Soviet Union argued about sainthood of late Romanov family. The RussianChurch involvement and the scientific efforts to identify the remains of Romanov family provide a controversial topic and I intend to explore it.

It was surprising for me to see scientists from all over the world including the United States trying their best to come up with a decisive answer about the faith of the young princess. The volume of the books and couple of movies about her makes me more interested. The art of DNA identification plays a great role in recent explorations and it will take a great deal of time and effort to be understood properly.

The Daughter of Tsar Nicholas II. She is thought to have died when the royal family was executed by the Bolsheviks in Ekaterinburg (17 July 1918). Several women claimed to be Anastasia, notably Anna Anderson, from the Black Forest (d.1984). Conflicting opinions by members of the Romanov family and others failed to establish the truth, and her claim was finally rejected by a Hamburg court in May 1961. The mystery has been the theme of books, plays and movies, and has not been resolved by further evidence produced following the collapse of the USSR.

Anastasia Romanova was born on the 18th June 1901 in Peterhof. She was the fourth daughter in the Romanovs family. Her sisters were Olga, Maria and Tatiana. People say that Tsar Nicholas II was not much happy to have another girl born because he wanted to have a son this time. Only boys could continue the dynasty and that was the main reason for Nicolas’s wish. Few years after Tsarevich Alexander was born, but he had a very hard disease.

There are many genetic traits in the European royal families that are interesting for their own sake but not useful for identification. The most significant of these is the X-linked recessive trait hemophilia. A carrier female most commonly passes down X-linked recessive traits, as the traits are generally deleterious and males expressing them usually do not live to a reproductive age. Hemophilia is characterized by the inability of the blood to clot and until the mid-1960s was largely untreatable (James 186).

Within the family of the last tsar of Russia, Tsarveich Alexei, the youngest child of Nicholas and Alexandra, was a hemophilic male. Alexandra was a carrier of this trait, having acquired it from her mother, Alice, the daughter of Queen Victoria of England. Victoria was a carrier of the disease, and passed it to three of her nine children, who went on to marry into other royal families of Europe including those of Russia and Spain.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was no way to treat the Tsarevich. He regularly hemorrhaged and was bed-ridden. The happiness that the birth of an heir had brought to the Romanovs was quickly diminished by his illness. Alexandra was desperate for a cure and searched among a number of mystics and physicians before finding Grigory Efimovich Rasputin (Greg 86).

Rasputin was largely considered to be a fraud who changed the course of the Romanov dynasty. While it is true that he was a drunkard and womanizer, it was through Alexei’s illness that he became a great force behind the last of the Romanovs. Alexandra truly believed that Rasputin could heal her son for Alexei improved daily after meeting the ‘elder’. Alexandra and Nicholas kept Rasputin close to their home to ‘heal’ Alexei on a regular basis. Whether he did it or not is irrelevant. The Tsarina believed and that gave Rasputin a remarkable power.

Through her unbending faith in him, Rasputin played on the Tsarina’s fears and desires and managed to change the face of the Russian Duma (the Russian ‘Congress’) and Synod (the ruling body of the Russian Church), and alienated both Alexandra and Nicholas’ families (Curtis 54). The Tsar and his immediate family were left with very little support by the time the Russian Revolution came.

Rasputin had prophesied that his death would foretell the fall of the Romanovs (Bob 5). He was murdered in 1916. The last Tsar of Russia and his family were killed in 1918.

In the summer of 1918, the family of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia vanished along with four servants and the family dog. The official statement from the ruling Soviet government was that Nicholas had been executed, and his family had been allowed to flee to America or England. For 8 years the Soviets did not contradict these statements. As no bodies had been discovered, it was easy to deny their existence (Aleksandra 2). However, in 1926, Stalin allowed the publication of a text stating that Nicholas and his family had been executed in 1918. But by then, the myth that the last ruling Romanov family was still alive in hiding had become truth to millions (Kristen 2).

Their survival was a romantic ideal that colored the search for and recovery of the remains. Those that did search were assured of censure or jail if their inquiries were not discreet. Forensic scientists put to rest the mystery in 2009, announcing that genetic tests on discovered remains accounted for all the members of the Romanov family (Alexei 1).

Suffice it to say that the remains of the last Tsar and his family were located in 1979 and reburied, as the political atmosphere of the country was not conducive to the revelation. With the advent of perestroika and glasnost, the finders felt assured of their personal safety and in 1991 the remains were unearthed.

The skeletal remains of nine individuals were recovered in 1991. The difficulty here is that there were eleven people murdered in the early morning of 17 July 1918: the former royal family of Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, the Tsarevich Alexei, and the four grand duchesses, Olga, Maria, Tatiana and Anastasia as well as their remaining servants (Alexander 4). That became the main reason for people to think that Anastasia was still alive. Many people claimed to be the lost royal children to try to get a part of some fortune that was stashed away by Nicholas before he abdicated (Samme 4). In history there are known almost thirty Anastasia’s impostors that wanted to apply on the inheritance of the Romanovs family.

The most famous for pretending Anastasia was Anna Anderson. She said as if one soldier named Tchaikovsky saw her alive in the basement of Ipatiev’s house and took her out. But soon another German soldier Franc Svoboda told that he was the one who helped Anastasia to survive. That happened in the Court when Anna Anderson tried to prove she was Romanova. Although Franc’s statements included a lot of unfaithful information, the court was able to notice that. Despite of that fact Anna wrote a book named “I am Anatasia” and till her death she visited different courts trying to prove her Romanova surname. Some years ago a genetic analysis confirmed that Anna Anderson’s real name was Franciscka Shanckovskaya and she was a worker at the Berlin’s factory that made explosives. As a result of the industrial accident she was hardly injured and got a psychical shock. It was impossible for Franciscka to get rid of its consequences till the end of her life (Kristen 2).

Another Anastasia Romanova’s impostor was Eugenia Smith, who was an artist and wrote a book about her survival story. It helped her to become rich and people paid a lot of attention to her for some time (Michael 3).

There were almost twenty people who said they had seen Anastasia alive but none of them were able to prove this information with facts. Two sums are claimed from foreign banks, $2 trillion of the entire Romanovs’ inheritance, or at least $30 billion of Anastasia’s part (Svetlana 4).

The skeletons found were reassembled and studied by both Russian anthropologists and a team of scientists from the United States. Agreement could not be reached over the identity of the individuals represented. Thus, the Russian chief medical examiner, Valdislav Plaskin and Dr. Pavel Ivanov of the Englehardt Institute of Molecular Biology of the RussianAcademy of Sciences in Moscow proposed sending the remains to Dr. Peter Gill at the Molecular Research Centre of the Home Office Forensic Sciences Service (FSS) in the UK for deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) identification (Greg 57).

Two different types of DNA can be used in the identification of remains: nuclear and mitochondrial. Nuclear DNA (nucDNA) is inherited from both parents and could be used to determine whether the remains are part of a family group. It is found in the nucleus of the cell, and is what is typically thought of when DNA is discussed.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is a small circular genome found in the mitochondria of the cell. It is inherited only through the maternal line and can be traced through a number of generations virtually unchanged. mtDNA exists in large copy numbers, thus making it very appropriate for use in identifying ancient remains, in which the nucDNA, existing in only two copies per cell, is often highly degraded and insufficient for identification (Alexander 1994).

Total genomic DNA was extracted from powdered bone that had been treated with extreme care. The amount of DNA in bone samples tends to be very low, and the DNA from the scientists handling the samples can easily contaminate the extracts and either overwhelm the ancient DNA or blend with it to form a hybrid or mixed sequence. Very small amounts of DNA were recovered using standard techniques. It was sufficient to attempt nucDNA testing through a technique called short tandem repeat (STR) analysis (Alexander 3).

Short tandem repeat analysis uses polymerase chain reaction to amplify a series of loci, the combination of which is typically a unique identifier for an individual. For example, an individual can be A, B at a given locus: the A was received from one parent, the B from the other. A series of such loci studied for any given person is virtually unique. These loci can also be used to identify children if the parents’ sequences are known. If two of the six adult skeletons found were the parents of the adolescent remains, then the children’s STR pattern should be a combination of the two.

STR analysis was conducted using five different STR loci and a test for amelogenin, which permits sex determination. Gill’s testing showed that five of the nine skeletons uncovered were indeed part of a family group and the three sets of adolescent remains were female. But were they the Romanov family? This question could not be answered with nucDNA.

It was then that the researchers turned to mtDNA. There are two regions within mtDNA that are typically studied for identification purposes: hyper-variable regions one and two. Gill and his team amplified DNA from the presumed Romanov remains in these two regions. The four female remains produced the identical results. These were compared to a mtDNA sequence generated from Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II of England and the maternal grandnephew of Alexandra. The results were identical, indicating that these were indeed the remains of Tsarina Alexandra and three of the grand duchesses. It was presumed that the related male skeleton was indeed that of Nicholas, but in view of the controversy already surrounding the remains, Gill wanted to be sure (James 109).

The FSS located two living maternal relatives of Nicholas who were willing to donate samples. The first was Xenia Sflris, the great-granddaughter of Nicholas’s sister, Grand Duchess Xenia and ironically the granddaughter of one of Rasputin’s murderers, Prince Felix Yusupov. The second was Lord James Carnegie, traced back through Nicholas’ grandmother and six generations of the royal European family tree. Mrs. Sfiris and Lord Carnegie matched each other exactly. However, when compared to the sample presumed to be from Nicholas, there was a single mismatch. Upon a very close examination of the data, it was determined that Nicholas’ sample actually had two bases at the mismatched position. As no other positions within the sample contained a similar overlay of bases, Gill concluded that this was a true heteroplasmy and not a contaminant (Kristen 3).

At that time, heteroplasmies (true mixtures of mtDNA sequence types within one individual) were considered very rare. Currently, while not common, they are regularly seen in mtDNA analysis. Gill and his team calculated the probabilities that such a mixture might occur in an individual and determined a 98.5% probability that this was indeed Nicholas II. The Russian authorities refused to accept this result and withheld burial of the bodies until such time as further testing could be undertaken (Alexander 5).

A more closely related maternal relative was needed to confirm the heteroplasmy. The Russian government gave permission for exhumation of the body of Georgij Romanov. He was Nicholas’s brother, who had died in 1899 of tuberculosis. Ivanov took a sample from Georgij’s remains and a fresh cutting from those of the Tsar’s and delivered them to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) in 1995. Not only did the Tsar’s remains match the results generated by Gill and the FSS, but those of Georgij expressed the same heteroplasmy (Curtis 86).

Given the combination of nucDNA, mtDNA and the anthropological evidence obtained, there is now no reasonable doubt that the recovered remains were those of Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra and three of the grand duchesses. Anthropologists are not in agreement as to whether the missing daughter is Maria or Anastasia (the two youngest), and it is beyond the scope of DNA analysis without a direct reference (Alexander 4).

Few years ago some new facts occurred as if Anastasia’s skeleton was found not far from the place where the Romanovs’ were buried. However, it is impossible to say if that is true or not. I want to believe Anastasia survived and lived in some other place till her death. The proverb says there is no smoke without fire and probably one of those thirty Anastasias could be the real one. On the other hand, the real Anastasia Romanova could have left the country and not tell anyone about her origin n order to provide herself safety. It had been a long time until the day when it was allowed to know about the Romanovs’ family destiny (Marvin J film). Also, a lot of things were able to be changed by government and scientists. Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanova is very famous for her story which is full of mystery and unknown facts. Who knows, maybe her grandchildren or children live happily in some place and guard Anastasia’s secret till nowadays.

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