She was first discovered after having attempted suicide in the Spree River in Berlin in 1920, and was a patient in a mental hospital under the name Fräulein Unbekannt (Miss Unknown) for two years before claiming to be the Grand Duchess after several patients and staff at the hospital noted a resemblance.
Miss Unknown, who called herself Anna Tchaikovsky, claimed to have been rescued from the Ipatiev house in Ekaterinburg where the Imperial family was murdered by a Russian Polish soldier named Tchaikovsky, whom she had later married and moved with to Bucharest, where he was killed in a street brawl. There is no evidence for the existence of this Tchaikovsky. Numerous people, including many relatives and close acquaintances of the Imperial family, were convinced that she was indeed Anastasia. In 1925, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, Anastasia's aunt, who had survived the Revolution and fled to Denmark, came to Berlin to identify Tchaikovsky, who was now going by the name Anna Anderson. Olga, after much uncertainty, eventually declared that Anna Anderson was not her niece, Grand Duchess Anastasia, saying that she was "not who she believes she is."
At around the same time, Anastasia's uncle, Grand Duke Ernest Louis of Hesse and the Rhine (Alexandra's brother), stung by Anderson's claims that he had gone to Russia on a secret "peace mission" in 1916 (which, if true, would have been embarrassing in an era of German nationalism), hired private investigators to discover her real identity. They suggested that she was in fact Franciska Schanskowska, an ethnic Polish Pomeranian factory work in Berlin, who had disappeared at around the same time that Fräulein Unbekannt was discovered.
Another of Anastasia's uncles, the Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich would later remark:
In 1969 Anderson married her American supporter John Manahan. He was 49 and she was around 70. They moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where she died in 1984. He body was cremated in accordance to her wishes.
In 1991, the bodies of the royal family were exhumed, and it was discovered that Alexis and one of the daughters was missing. DNA testing was done to make sure that the remains were actually those of the imperial family, but also to compare Anderson's DNA and see if it matched. The mitochondrial DNA of the bodies presumed to be those of Alexandra and three of her daughters were compared to those of the Duke of Edinburgh, whose mother's mother was a sister of Alexandra. This proved to be a match. Anderson's DNA, however, did not match either that of the Romanov remains or of the Duke of Edinburgh, making it practically impossible that she was, in fact, Anastasia. Another DNA test, comparing her DNA to that of a relative of the missing Franciszka Schanzkowska, was a match, making the identification originally made in the 1920s a likely one.
Anna's DNA was taken from tissue obtained during a 1979 operation Anna had undergone at Charlottesville's Martha Jefferson Hospital for intestinal blockage. About one foot of her intestines had been removed, and about five inches of it, preserved in formalin, remained in the hospital's pathology department from that time. It was obtained by the testers following a long and complicated court battle.
Later, some hair samples were found in an envelope marked "Anna Anderson" amongst some books that had belonged to her. These hairs were likewise subjected to DNA tests and found to be identical to that of the tissue sample.
Supporters of Anderson continue to dispute all of these findings, however, and many still believe that she was, in fact, the Grand Duchess.