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Is Anna Anderson the Missing Anastasia?

This Anastasia story has been adapted to the DNA Fingerprint simulation used by Gene Connection. It is an alternative to a crime scene scenario and an example of a "real life" mystery that was solved by DNA analysis.

The lab is based on the NOVA video, "Anastasia: Dead or Alive?" (NOVA 1995. 1-800-255-9424)

In l918, during the Russian Revolution, the last Czar of Russia (Nicholas II), his wife, four daughters, one son, a family physician and several servants were assassinated and their bodies hidden. Among the presumed dead was Anastasia, their 17 year old daughter. Two years later, in 1920, a young woman was rescued from a canal in Berlin and hospitalized in a mental institution, apparently suffering from amnesia. The hospital staff named her Anna Anderson. Keeping silent about her true identity at first, Anna Anderson finally admitted that she was the missing Anastasia. What a headline! For many years, people debated her authenticity. Scientists compared her physical features with those of surviving family members and from childhood photographs. Historians evaluated her accounts of family history; other experts analyzed her behavior and demeanor, trying to assess whether it reflected a "royal" upbringing. The most adamant skeptics believed that Anna was really a Polish factory worker, named Franziska, who had fled Poland for Germany. When Anna Anderson died in 1984, her true identity remained unproven, and the mystery continued.

In l991, the burial site of the executed group was revealed and nine sets of bones were analyzed. Based on the sizes and shapes of the bones, scientists concluded that the bones of the two youngest children were missing: Anastasia and her brother Alexei. The bones also provided a preserved source of evidence of inheritance: DNA! Armed with DNA from the bones of Nicholas II and the Czarina, scientists could now explore the heritage of current known Romanov relatives with that of Anna Anderson. The scientists decided to analyze mitochondrial DNA because it is passed almost unchanged throughout generations from a mother to her children. Scientists also had a test case: England's Prince Philip is related on the maternal side through Queen Elizabeth to Anastasia's mother. The DNA "fingerprint" of Prince Philip's mitochondrial DNA showed significant relatedness to the DNA profile obtained from mitochondrial DNA extracted from the bones of the Czarina. Although Anna Anderson had been cremated, a pathology lab had a sample of her intestine, which was used for the DNA test. And, to add a final piece to the puzzle, a maternal grandnephew of Franziska was found in Germany and agreed to have his DNA analyzed.

The NOVA video should be shown to students up to the part where the blood is drawn from the maternal grandnephew of Franziska.
  • Have students discuss orally or in writing the evidence pro/con that Anna Anderson is the missing Anastasia.
  • Ask them to judge. Or what type of additional evidence they would like to have in order to make a judgment.

In the lab, students will restrict DNA samples and analyze the size of the resulting fragments on an agarose gel. What pattern should students expect to see if Anna Anderson's DNA profile is consistent with her being Anastasia? For interest, we added another person to the drama-- a man claiming to be the illegitimate son of Anastasia. What profile would he need to have to be related to Anastasia?

On Part I of Gene Connection's original Lab 305 there are 5 tubes of DNA samples. To fit with the above scenario, substitute the following:

  • Tube U: the same. It is uncut and the control for intactness of sample.
  • Tube CS: DNA from Anna Anderson's intestine
  • Tube 1: DNA from the man claiming to be Anastasia's illegitimate son
  • Tube 2: DNA from Prince Philip
  • Tube 3: DNA from the maternal grandnephew of Franziska

For discussion:
After the fingerprinting lab, show the rest of the video. It is VERY important to discuss the fact that several of the people, emotionally involved in believing that Anna Anderson was Anastasia, would not believe the DNA tests: the scientific data - the scientific evidence. Emotion vs logic; "gut" vs brain.

This leads to a discussion of the validity of DNA "profiling." Just how conclusive is it? Compare the use of DNA profile to prove non-identity (relatively easy-one test could do it) vs the need for multiple analyses to prove identity and/or relatedness.

It is also fascinating to read (in the extra materials) and talk about why the patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church refuse to acknowledge the discovered remains as those of the Czar!


Background     Part I     Part II & III     Part IV     Part V     Part VI

Crime Scenario     Teacher's Guide

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