Born January 13 (25 N.S.) in the town of Yelabuga, Viatka province, into a merchant family of modest means. His father, Ivan Vasilyevich Shishkin, engaged in archaeology and was a member of the Moscow Archaeological Society. He took part in the excavations of the Ananyinsky burial site, one of the most ancient on Russian territory, and wrote The History of The Town of Yelabuga. He instilled in his son an interest in the past and in nature, and encouraged his fondness for drawing.