You think you can grasp the terror of historical tragedies, until you see the proof in pictures. Beinecke Library at Yale University houses six albums filled with family photographs of the royal Russian Romanovs. Thumbing through the pages, they look just like any other loving family, but there’s a grim twist.

Tsar Nicholas II liked to capture all the moments of everyday life with his wife and children. Family vacations, silly snapshots, hugging pets — the normal stills of happy life. But in turning the pages of the albums, the images become darker as you begin to see the final days of a family held captive.

The Romanov family tragedy remains one of the most horrific brutalities in recent world history. For Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children, life shifted from the trappings of royalty to the confinement of prisoners.

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Nicholas II was the final emperor of Russia. His mishandling of World War I, and the dire consequences his nation faced as a result, led to his forced abdication of the crown. This portrait was taken moments later, before he understood the horrors that awaited his family.

Smithsonian Mag

Before the bleakness, life was good for the Romanovs. Nicholas and Alexandra welcomed four daughters. The two eldest, Olga and Tatiana, were dubbed “The Big Pair.” The two youngest, Maria and Anastasia, were logically called “The Little Pair.”

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At the time, the most discussed was Tatiana. She inherited her mother’s good looks, with steely blue-grey eyes and auburn hair. Apart from the attention she attracted from her beauty, Tatiana was respected for her wartime efforts, serving as a nurse with the Red Cross.

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Rumors flamed by misinformation made the youngest, Anastasia, the most famous. You might remember her from the Disney movie bearing her name. She was the funny girl in the family, proudly wearing false teeth for laughs, despite the grim detail that they were pulled from corpses back then.

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The arrival of Alexei, their only son, gave the Romanovs a collective sigh of relief. He was the male heir that they’d so desperately needed. Though, they soon discovered the boy was plagued with health problems — suffering from the rare blood clotting disorder hemophilia.

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Politics and illness aside, the Romanovs lived like most other kids: playing with their cousins, running round outside, older sisters simultaneously bossing around and doting on their brother. Their parents whisked them around the country to various royal estates as contemporary royals do.

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Nicholas II was the picture-happy dad behind the camera. As an amateur photographer, his favorite subject was his family. Six full albums packed with candids were recovered years later, containing gems like this beach day outing.

Cultura Colectiva

Everyone was hyper protective of Alexei given his illness and succession to the throne. A hovering mother and sisters couldn’t keep Alexei from goofing off like a normal little boy. Flopping around in the sand, or riding a sled down a staircase, he could’ve give a hoot about safety.

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“Took the elephant to our pond with Alexei today and had fun watching him bathe,” wrote the Tsar in a 1914 journal entry. The Romanovs owned an entire zoo full of exotic creatures, until the war and subsequent Russian revolution in 1917 resulted in its closure.

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Their favorite retreat was aboard their yacht, The Standart. The ship was a picture of lavishness, chandeliers glittering from the rocking waves, top notch interiors flanked in mahogany. It made a fitting location to soften the blow when Nicholas II learned of the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand.

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While Nicholas II attempted to entangle the strategies of war, his children balanced time at home with their mother versus their own wartime responsibilities. Olga, in her nurses veil, volunteered to assist wounded soldiers. Anastasia was too young for nursing, so she and Maria played checkers with the injured.

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As monarchs, wartime relief was encompassing family affair. Everyone pulled their weight, visiting soldiers to boost moral together presented a united front. However, Tsarina Alexandra’s ties to Germany, she was a German born princess, didn’t bode well with the rest of the country.

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In spite of the tension, the Romanovs stuck to their duties. Tsar Nicholas was joined by Maria and Anastasia at the beside of wounded soldiers. Less than a year later, the family would be held captive at the hands of their own soldiers.

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In the days before the shoe dropped for the royals, the girls dealt with a case of the measles. Alexandra lined her daughters up and shaved each of their heads.Yet they smiled through it, not knowing their entire family was about to be placed under house arrest.

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Revolution erupted, and Nicholas II was forced to relinquish his and Alexei’s claim to the monarchy. The guards who once protected the Romanovs turned cruel and vindictive. This picture was taken during their captivity, with Anastasia holding Tatiana’s pet bulldog Ortipo, a gift from a smitten soldier.

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Tatiana wrote to a fellow nurse friend in 1917 expressing her frustrations with sitting idle in captivity: “It is strange to sit in the morning at home, to be in good health and not go to change the bandages!”

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Royal functions and etiquette fell by the wayside. Tatiana rose to the action in the midst of the crisis, keeping a level head. For a period the family was separated, the parents and son at one location, the daughters at another.

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They avoided prison cells, though their house arrest conditions were far from cushy. Alexei, weakened from his inherited hemophilia, was still expected to execute hard labor. All their food was restricted to solider rations.

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One saving grace was the Romanovs were allowed to keep their dogs for company. Of the three family pets, Joy, Alexei’s dog, was the only one of that appealed to the sympathies of the guards on the day of their final tragedy.

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The last year of their lives was an isolated waiting game. Moved roughly from location to location, exile weighed on their spirits. Nicholas acted as the glue for his family, maintaining an “internal calm” during crisis, taking pictures like this in their final months together.

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End of the road for the Romanov’s was the Yekaterinburg’s Ipatiev House. Soldiers woke the family, and ushered them to the basement, supposedly to shield them from a nearby riot. Instead, the family was executed by gunfire, and when that didn’t work, by bayonets.

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Murmurs that one or two of the daughters survived the executions swirled for decades. Anastasia was primarily the focus. DNA testing debunked that theory years later, and the entire Romanov family was buried in a mass grave located in 1991.

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It took until 1998 for the family to be properly laid to rest. A funeral, attended by the Russian prime minister at the time, Boris Yeltsin, acted as a symbolic acknowledgment of wrongdoings by the government.

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Misinformation about the Romanov case leaked for decades. People gathered false facts from fictional accounts in movies.The delay in determining DNA identification inspired hundreds of people to claim they were the elusive long lost Romanov. In actuality, all the victims were long since murdered.

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Before the Romanov myth was put to rest, the royalty obsessed watched the rise of another powerful family, though this one lived a few thousand miles away in England. In 1951, the royal landscape changed forever.

1. 1951: Future Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip recently welcomed their two children, Charles and Anne. The new family stands here with King George VI, the Queen Mother Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s younger sister Margaret.

2. 1953: After the death of George VI a year earlier, his eldest daughter ascended to the throne and became Queen Elizabeth II. Philip, in turn, received the title of prince consort. Below, the couple waves to their subjects from Buckingham Palace.

3. 1960: A third royal child, Prince Andrew, arrived. The newborn enjoys a picnic with his parents and siblings during a holiday in Balmoral, Scotland. That’s right — that castle in the background was only their vacation home.

4. 1965: This Christmas photo depicts the Royal Family shortly after the birth of Elizabeth and Philip’s fourth and final child, Prince Edward. Their household grew livelier than ever, and the new generation of royals quickly endeared themselves to the British public.

5. 1971: Coming up on twenty years as monarch, Elizabeth greets onlookers with Edward, Andrew, and her niece Lady Sarah. They are headed to meet the rest of their extended family for a winter holiday at Sandringham House.

6. 1976: By this point, Elizabeth’s children are old enough to rebel a bit. Prince Andrew laughs at his mother from the second row as she nervously rides at the front of a cable car. Edward, seated next to her, looks a little bit more respectful.

7. 1977: This year marks Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee of 25 years on the British throne. She celebrated by visiting 36 different countries in the span of a few months, followed by a massive procession through London.

8. 1980: For Prince Charles, most of the 1970s were his “bachelor years.” He seemed more content to party and jump between girlfriends than seriously pursue marriage. Here, he sips a coconut drink in Bhubaneswar, India, but he wouldn’t stay a bachelor for long.

9. 1981: Incredible hype built up once Prince Charles announced that he would marry Lady Diana Spencer. The press dubbed the event “The Wedding of the Century,” and the public followed every aspect of the ceremony with fervor.

10. 1982: Diana and Charles had their first son, William. The new parents play with William in Kensington Palace, though they didn’t refer to him as William behind closed doors. Interestingly, their family nickname for the young prince was “Wombat.”

11. 1988: Four years earlier, Diana gave birth to her second son, Prince Harry. Far from shy of the many cameras around him, Harry sticks his tongue out from the Buckingham Palace balcony while Diana tells him to stop.

12. 1992: Below, Philip, Charles, Elizabeth, and the Queen Mother depart from Princess Anne’s wedding. However, 1992 was not an easy year for the family. In addition to a fire in Windsor castle, marital troubles sprung up for Elizabeth’s children.

13. 1995: Hurt by extramarital affairs and a 13-year age gap, Charles and Diana were separated throughout the early 1990s. However, they still attended official events together. They divorced a year later, though the greatest tragedy was yet to come.

14. 1997: The entire world went into shock with the news that Princess Diana died in a violent Paris car crash. Thousands of guests attended her funeral at Westminster Abbey, while millions more watched on television. Her sons were only 15 and 12 at the time.

15. 2002: More loss followed the royal family into the new millennium, though this instance was admittedly less shocking. The Queen Mother passed away at age 101. On a happier note, Queen Elizabeth reached her Golden Jubilee on this same year.

16. 2005: Prince Charles carried on an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles while still married to Diana, so Charles and Camila met controversy when they announced their engagement. As a result, they chose to marry in a civil ceremony instead of a royal wedding.

17. 2006: Now all grown up, Prince Harry decided to follow William into the military. As a Cornet in the famed Blues and Royals regiment, he stands at attention with his saber as Queen Elizabeth walks by. Still, he cannot help but crack a smile at his grandmother.

18. 2011: The Brits — and just about everyone else — went crazy for the next generation of royal weddings. Prince William married Kate Middleton, a classmate from the University of St. Andrews, and over 160 million people watched the lavish ceremony.

19. 2017: The Royal family celebrates the 91st birthday of Queen Elizabeth, who also became the longest-reigning British monarch a couple years prior. William and Kate’s young children, George and Charlotte, watch the fanfare with excitement.

20. 2018: Harry matched his brother’s fairytale wedding with one of his own. He married American actress Meghan Markle, best known from the TV show Suits. Meghan’s entry into the royal family is also notable because she is a woman of color.

21. Somehow, with all eyes on them, the Royal Family has managed to carve out somewhat normal lives for themselves. Ever annoy a sibling just because you feel like it? Prince Harry is teasing his older brother with a rather large boa constrictor. It’s all in good fun… unless you’re William.

Kensington Royals / Instagram

22. When Prince William and Duchess Kate aren’t holding down the fort in Kensington Palace, they like to escape royal life by going on a holiday. After welcoming Princess Charlotte, the two went skiing. Kate surprised William with a friendly snowball fight.

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23. They may not be blood relatives, but that doesn’t stop Kate and Meghan from gossiping like sisters while attending a tennis match with the rest of the family. What we wouldn’t give to hear what they’re talking about!

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24. Long before Kate was the Duchess of Cambridge, she was just plain-ol’ Kate Middleton. She wore silky dresses like the one below and took hackney carriages (taxis) from place to place with her baby sister Pippa.

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25. The future queen consort might be the coolest royal of them all. Not only is she holding her own on those roller skates, but she looks like she hasn’t aged. Talk about good genes.

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26. Prince Charles might be 70 years old, but this photo shows he’s still a schoolboy at heart. He’s been waiting seven decades to ascend the royal throne, but it doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon, so for now, this wall will have to do. Hang in there, Charles.

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27. This candid moment captured the Duchess of Cambridge catching the clumsy Countess of Wessex as she tripped while getting into the carriage. Good thing Kate caught her, otherwise that would have been a royal pain.

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28. Watching Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s love story has been like a real-life fairy-tale, and it’s only getting better. A photo like this really captures the dynamic relationship between the two. Find someone who looks at you like Harry looks at Meghan.

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29. Kate and William met while they were studying at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Who knows where they were going in this picture, but Kate sure does look annoyed with her beau. We feel you, Kate.

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30. Like we mentioned before, sports are a huge part of royal life. Unfortunately, the All England Club did not treat the Prince and Duchess well on this outing. The match must have been torturous to watch judging by their faces.

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31. Prince Harry has always been the goofball of the royal family. Here, it looks like he was participating in a charity event in place of — or without — his older brother Prince William. No worries, though: Harry made sure his brother was there in spirit.

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32. Kids are kids regardless if they have royal blood pumping through their veins. Look at little Prince Harry and Prince William enjoying a heart-pounding ride on the Nemesis at Alton Towers. We wonder if the brothers still ride roller coasters from time to time…

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33. And Princess Charlotte knows all too well that having royal blood doesn’t give her the power of endless energy. Being a royal kid is hard work, and it looks like it’s cutting into the princess’ nap time. Someone get her a royal blankey!

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34. Queen Elizabeth has sat on the British throne longer than any other monarch. That’s a long time in the public eye. Apparently, when the queen isn’t attending political affairs, she is outside catching snowflakes on her tongue.

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35. Kids love to stick their tongues out whenever a camera appears, too. Prince Harry might not be king, but he has always been the king of the silly-face pose. And he’s not alone. Even Princess Charlotte has been caught a time or two sporting this face to the cameras.

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36. Royal sunglasses must not be part of the event wardrobe protocol! Not even the duchesses’ fancy hats can block the sun from their eyes.

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37. Seeing how Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are expecting parents, it makes total sense that they have paternal and maternal instincts. It’s so endearing to see the pair interact with the youth of their country.

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38. Kate looks like she is having so much fun during her university days. She’s right in the middle of St. Andrews annual foam fight that welcomes new students. Even since college, Kate’s been a leader.

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39. Most people make this face when they meet Prince Harry, but he seems to be quite shocked himself. He better hold on tight to that tray of cupcakes before he accidentally throws them in the air.

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40. Curious from a young age, William was caught peeking up the skirt of the Prince of Whales during a fishing trip. We all know there are no fish up there, but William needed to check it out for himself first.

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41. A family that jokes together stays together, and William and Harry always make sure their family is in good spirits. Here they are in their younger days teaching the fam how to do the wave!

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42. A bit of healthy competition between brothers is totally normal. William and Harry weren’t afraid to put down the suits and roll around in the mud at their polo match. It got a little messy, to say the least.

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