The Science Behind Anastasia
Anastasia Romanov was the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia. The Romanov family ruled Russia for nearly 300 years until 1917 when Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheveks overthrew the Romanovs, imprisoning Anastasia and her family in Siberia until 1918 when they were murdered by Bolshevik soldiers. The bodies were buried in a secret location.
In the 1920’s a previously unknown woman in a mental hospital in Germany began claiming that she was Anastasia Romanov. She continued to make these claims up until her death in 1984, and arguably not without reason. There had been rumors that some of the members of the Tsar’s family had escaped the soldiers and as the woman had the same eye color, hair color, height, and body markings as the Romanov princess (including a deformed foot), most of the Russian public was not hesitant to accept the woman known as Anastasia Anderson to be the real Anastasia Romanov.
Then in 1991, the remains of the Romanov family were found and exhumed in Siberia. Portions of skeletons were found and the remains were identified as the Tsarina three of her female children using mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited solely from one’s mother. Once DNA was extracted from the skeletons, it was compared to that of the most recent maternal relative, Prince Philip of England; and as all four DNA samples matched that of the prince, it was confirmed that the nine skeletons that had been found included those of the Tsarina and three of her female children. Similar methods were used to confirm the identities of the other skeletons including that of Tsar Nicholas using mitochondrial DNA from James, Duke of Fife. However, it was concluded that the bodies of Princess Anastasia and Prince Alexei had not been found.
Using this method of analysis, the question of Anna Anderson’s identity should be relatively easy to answer. Should mitochondrial DNA from Anderson match that of the skeletons and/or of Prince Philip, then there would be “proof’ that she was indeed Princess Anastasia. Following a surgery in 1979, doctors had allegedly frozen a section of Anderson’s intestine that was still in tact enough to use for DNA extraction. It was then concluded that Anderson’s DNA did not match that of Prince Philip and finally in 1995, the scientific journal Nature Genetics published a letter written collectively by 11 scientists involved in the DNA testing that supported the conclusion that there was no way Anna Anderson and Anastasia Romanov were the same person.
Despite this strong scientific evidence, there are several people, myself included, who refuse to believe that Anderson was the not the long lost princess. Some cite the “uncanny and non-coincidental” physical resemblance; others still, her knowledge of the royal throne including memories that a non-member of the family would not know. Then there is evidence of the general likeness of the two including Anderson’s fluency in all the languages that Anastasia was fluent in, results of preliminary handwriting analysis, formal recognition and acceptance of Anderson by several members of the royal family, and the infamous deformed foot that “both” women shared. These observations do not simply die at the hands of scientific “fact”.
One could begin to unravel these scientific “facts” with an analysis of what these facts are based on. Firstly, the DNA test that compared Anderson to the royal family was conducted in 1994 using a piece of intestine allegedly belonging to Anderson that had been cataloged and stored anonymously at a Virginia hospital since 1979. Besides the obvious question of whether or not the DNA would have honestly still been in tact some 16 years later, I can not help but wonder why her intestine would have been kept in the first place. Furthermore, it has been published and confirmed that as the tests were conducted in England, the intestine did travel from the United States to Europe via the mail which makes tampering a possibility. Though relevancy may be questioned, I find it important here to note that there is a monetary inheritance that has been split between distant relatives of Tsar Nicholas since 1917 as there was no proven Romanov family survivor at that time. Had Anderson or any other woman claiming to be Anastasia had been proved as such, the dispersal of nearly $80 million rightfully belonging to the Romanov family would have to be recovered from these relatives and provided to Anastasia. Who then can deny the role that money and power play in this situation? Obviously, there were several very important people who were thriving only so long as Anastasia was dead. This is what we call motive.
While something may have occurred in England either affecting the sample or the test itself, this is just one possibility; and those who believe science as undeniable, unarguable fact have the hardest time with its plausibility. However, an article published in January 2004 in the British medical journal Annals of Human Biology sheds light on another possibility which seems to be the most compelling line of conflicting evidence, as it is the most “scientific”. The scientists who wrote this article believe that the skeletons found in Siberia are not those of the Romanov family, which would explain why Anderson’s DNA was not a match. They cite “major violations of standard forensic practices” as well as “factual inconsistencies” and actually replicated the tests that had been done to confirm the skeletons’ identities using DNA instead from Grand Duchess Elizabeth, a sister of Tsarina Alexandra. They repeated their experiment four times and each time observed no match between the sequence that the Siberian scientists had indicated as that of Alexandra and the sequence that they had established for Elizabeth. These conclusions cast reasonable doubt upon the true identity of the remains found in Siberia, and the true identity of Anastasia Anderson.
Since Anderson died and was cremated in 1984, the chunk of intestine which may or may not even belong to her, was the last piece of DNA available to perform scientific tests on. For those that still seek an answer as to who Anastasia Anderson really was, science is no longer a concrete option. Summaries of observations must be formed individually, using logic and simple common sense.