Elizabeth Madox Roberts was born on October 30, 1881, in Perryville, Kentucky, United States to the family of Simpson Roberts and Mary Elizabeth Brent. About 1884 she moved with her family to Springfield, Kentucky, the town that would become the center of her stories and novels. As a child, Roberts listened to her father's storytelling. An equally important influence on Roberts as a child were family legends, including the tale of a great-grandmother who had come to Kentucky by the Wilderness Road.
Roberts' father, Simpson Roberts, and her mother, Mary Elizabeth Roberts, were both descendants of eighteenth-century pioneers. Simpson was a schoolmaster, farmer, and civil engineer who served in the Confederate army; Mary was the granddaughter of a Union officer who defected to the South.