When one thinks of the Romanov Dynasty of Imperial Russia, one usually thinks of Nicholas II, the last tsar. A weak ruler, his claim to fame was his revolutionary capture and subsequent death. More importantly to the Romanov name in the 20th century were the rumors about his daughter, Anastasia, and whether she survived. More movies were made about her than about Nicholas II who, at the time of his death, ruled over 1/2 the world and is worth US $881 million (1916) and today: $290.7 billion.
But who were the Romanovs? How did they become so powerful? Where did they come from?
Technically Nicholas II was of the Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov Dynasty, a descendant of German born Catherine II of the House of Anhalt-Zerbst and either Peter III, grandson of Peter the Great (the most likely), or Serge Saltykov, one of Catherine's lovers (probably a rumor started by her to anger Peter).
Peter III, in turn, was the son of Karl Friedrich, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp (nephew of the childless Charles XII of Sweden) and Anna Petrovna, a daughter of Emperor Peter the Great of Russia and his second wife, Catherine I of Russia. He claimed both the Russian throne and the Swedish one, and had his aunt, Elizabeth I, not declared him her heir, would have become Sweden's king.
Traveling father back in time, the original Romanov Dynasty began with Anastasia Romanovna Zakharyina-Yurieva's marriage to Ivan the Terrible. Anastasia's brother took the surname Romanov (from his father, Roman or his patronymic Romanovich) when her son, Fyodor I, died. Though forced into a monastery, his son, 16-year-old son Mikhail Romanov was elected tsar.