Maria was born in the village of Strones in the Waldviertel region of Archduchy of Austria. She was the daughter of Theresia Pfeisinger (7 September 1769 – 11 November 1821), and farmer Johannes Schicklgruber (29 May 1764 – 12 November 1847). Maria was a Catholic; what is known about her is based on church and other public records.
Maria was one of eleven children, only six of whom survived infancy. Her early life was that of a poor peasant child in a rural forested area, in the northwest part of Lower Austria, northwest of Vienna.
In 1821, Maria's mother died when Maria was 26. She received an inheritance of 74.25 gulden, which she left invested in the Orphans' Fund until 1838. By that time it had more than doubled to 165 gulden. At that time, a breeding pig cost 4 gulden, a cow 10–12 gulden and an entire inn 500 gulden. Werner Maser wrote she was a "thrifty, reserved, and exceptionally shrewd peasant woman."
Other than saving her inheritance, which indicates she was not destitute during that period of her life, little is known about Maria's life until she was over 40.
In 1837, when she was 42 years old, and still unmarried, her first and only child was born. She named the boy Alois. Maser notes that she refused to reveal who the child's father was, so the priest baptized him Alois Schicklgruber and entered "illegitimate" in place of the father's name on the baptismal register. Historians have discussed three candidates for the father of Alois: