Every few years throughout my youth, some eccentric elderly Russian woman would claim she was Princess Anastasia, daughter of Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra. And that as such, she was the sole surviving member of Russia’s last royal family and had eluded the Bolshevik firing squad that brutally slaughtered her family in 1918.
None turned out to be Anastasia, of course. But the very idea that one of the Romanov children had survived the executions in Yekateringburg remained one of the 20th century’s most tantalizing mysteries. This was because, for nearly 70 years, the remains of the bodies were either missing or inconclusively identified. Most of the conjecture centered on the Princess Anastasia and on her 13-year-old hemophiliac younger brother, Crown Prince Aleksei, royal heir to the throne.
Then, in 1991, the family’s supposed graves were unearthed in Yekateringburg and the remains reburied in St. Petersburg. At that time, the bones were identified as those of Nicholas, Alexandra and three of the couple’s children, including Anastasia.
No remains were found, however, for two of the children, Aleksei and another sister, Grand Duchess Maria.
Last summer, suspicious skeletal remains were found buried in a forest near Yekateringburg and were immediately submitted to laboratories in Russia and the United States for DNA testing, using the latest technology. The findings were announced this week.
“This has confirmed that indeed it is the children,” said Eduard Rossel, governor of the region where Yekateringburg is located. “We have now found the entire family.”
The announcement will no doubt come as a relief to Romanov descendents and historians, but skepticism could still erupt. When the Russian government, using then-new DNA testing procedures, announced in 1998 that the identities of the first batch of bones were conclusive, some scientists disputed the validity of the DNA testing, saying it was flawed. Though this latest testing utilized state-of-the-art DNA technology, it’ll be interesting to see if the findings are similarly called into question.
It that should happen, the mystery will continue.