The Romanovs were the ruling family of the Russian Empire between 1613 and 1917.
Mikhail Romanov was the first of the Romanov family to be crowned Tsar (sometimes referred to as Czar), following the Time of Troubles (1598-1613). He was offered the Russian crown by the Russian Assembly of the Land, after it had been offered to, and declined, by a number of other Russian nobles. The crown at that point was thought to be so poisoned a chalice that he is said to have broken down into tears of despair when offered the crown. However, he turned out to be a very able leader – aware of his relatively weak position he made sure that he obtained the agreement of the Assembly of the land on every key decision.
Mikhail’s descendants continued as Tsars of Russia until Peter the Great became Emperor of the Russian Empire in 1721, a title held by each successive head of the Romanov family until 1917. Strictly, the Romanov line actually ended with the death of Peter II in 1730, and were succeeded by the Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov Dynasty, which claimed matrilineal succession, but they remained in popular consciousness the Romanov Dynasty, and always sought to emphasise that they were direct descendants of Peter the Great.
The final Romanov to hold the Russian crown was Nicholas II (who also held the titles Grand Prince of Finland and King of Poland, by the way). He abdicated on 15 March 1917, and was executed by Communist forces on 17 July 1918.
The Romanov family continues to this day, although speculation that Nicholas II’s daughter, Anastasia Romanov, escaped being executed with her family in 1918 has been proved to have been false. Today’s Romanov family is largely descended from Nicholas II’s sisters – Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia and Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia – who both survived the end of the Russian Empire.
Today’s Romanovs are connected by the Romanov Family Association – their website can be found at http://www.romanovfamily.org/. All male-line descendants of Emperor Paul I are entitled to be members, and their current President (an ironic title, I know!) is Nicholas Romanovich, Prince of Russia.
Some descendants still hold onto their claim to the Russian throne (it’s now disputed between a number of Romanovs) but there is little chance of them ever returning to power in Russia. Mostly, the Romanov Association is now dedicated to raising money to support aid projects, through its Romanov Fund for Russia.