Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Born in Simbirsk, Russia (now Ulyanovsk), Lenin was the son of Ilya Nikolaevich Ulyanov (1831-1886), a Russian civil service official who worked for progressive democracy and free universal education in Russia, and his liberal wife Maria Alexandrovna Ulyanova (1835-1916). Lenin was of mixed ethnic ancestry. In addition to being Russian, he also had Kalmyk ancestry through his paternal grandparents, Volga German ancestry through his maternal grandmother (who was a Lutheran), and Jewish ancestry through his maternal grandfather (who converted to Christianity). Lenin was baptised into the Russian Orthodox Church.
Lenin distinguished himself in the study of Latin and Greek. Two tragedies occurred early in his life. The first occurred when his father died of a cerebral haemorrhage in 1886. In May 1887 his eldest brother Alexander Ulyanov was hanged for participation in a plot threatening the life of Tsar Alexander III. This radicalized Lenin. His official Soviet biographies have this event as central to his revolutionary exploits. A famous painting by Belousov, We will follow a different path, reprinted in millions of Soviet textbooks, depicted young Lenin and his mother grieving the loss of his elder brother. The phrase "We will follow a different path" meant that Lenin chose the right way to succeed in the revolution, which was based on a Marxist approach. Indeed, at that time Lenin became interested in Marxism, he got involved in student protests and later that year was arrested. He was then expelled from Kazan University. He continued to study independently and by 1891 had earned a license to practice law.