Monday, August 27, 2007

Armenian Ancestors?

One of the "facts" told by my mother when I first started asking questions about her grandmother, Susie Yarian Phend, was that the Yarian family came from Armenia. She said she remembers being told that any surname ending in "ian" was of Armenian origin. The story was that they were persecuted because of their religion and, over several generations, left Armenia and eventually made their way to this country. But she didn't know when they came. In fact, the only thing that she or any of her cousins could remember about Susie was that she had lived in Nappanee, Elkhart County when she and Henry Phend were married.

First thing I did was check an atlas to see where in the world Armenia was located. It's a landlocked mountainous country in Eurasia and shares borders with Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Azerbaijan to the east, and Iran to the south. Until 1991 Armenia was a republic of the Soviet Union. One of the things that our old encyclopedia told us was that Armenia was the first nation to formally adopt Christianity, which they did early in the 4th century. It seemed reasonable that there could be religious persecution in that area of the world.

The next thing was to find Susie's parents. That turned out to be a pretty simple task - her obituary stated that she was a native of Elkhart county, that she was born northwest of Nappanee, and that she was a daughter of Eli and Lavina Berlin Yarian. Her death record, with son Paul as the informant, confirmed that information.

At the Allen County Public Library I found the "History of Elkhart County, Indiana" (Chapman, 1881, p. 1146) which showed that Eli was born in Portage County, Ohio and was the son of Jacob and Elizabeth Yarian. Eli had come to Elkhart County in 1866. Then, the "History of Portage County, Ohio" (Beers, 1885, p. 808) included a biography of Jacob Yarian. It stated "Jacob Yarian, Sr., farmer, P.O. Randolph, was born in Columbiana County, Ohio, December 24, 1812, son of Conrad and Eva Yarian, natives of Pennsylvania, of Westmoreland and Lancaster Counties, respectively, and who settled in Columbiana County, Ohio, in 1803."

Another clue came from the biography of a brother of Eli (Jonathan Yarian who had lived in Noble County, Indiana for a while) published in the "History of Whitley and Noble Counties, Indiana" (Goodspeed, 1882, p. 498): "Conrad and Eve (Ruperd) Yarian, natives of the Keystone State, were married in Columbiana County, Ohio, and had thirteen children. Mr. Yarian was of German descent; his ancestors came to this country during Colonial times, and some of them served in the Revolutionary War."

It was about this time that I connected with Lowell Yarian who had done extensive research on the Yarian family. He provided me with the information that Conrad's parents were John George and Margaretha Williams YERION. George, as he was called, was born October 18, 1733 in Oley, Bucks (now Northampton) County, Pennsylvania. His father, Mathias JURIAN, had arrived in this country on the ship "Pleasant" in October 1732 having sailed from Rotterdam. His source was a 14 page document titled "Some Descendants of Mathais Jurian 1702-1763" which was compiled by Miss Cecil M. Smith, no date.

With that information I returned to the Allen County Library to locate the booklet by Cecil Smith and to look up the passenger lists in "Pennsylvania German Pioneers" by Ralph Strassburger and edited by William John Hinke, published in 1934. This multi-volume publication includes facsimile copies of the two lists in which the passengers either signed their name or made their mark. Mathias made his mark, a scrawly "Mi" (or "Mj" as interpreted by others) and his name was written as Mathias Ieryon, and Matthias Jurian. The transcribed captain's list gave his name as Marthiy Jargon. The other information obtained from these lists was that he was 30 years old and was one of the "Palatines imported in the Ship Pleasant, James Morris, master, from Rotterdam, but last from Deal. Qualified October 11, 1732."

In 1986 I had taken a research trip to Ohio and Pennsylvania and had found source documents (marriage records, wills, estate settlements) to confirm most of the information found in the county history books mentioned above. In 1989, "The Yerian-Yeryan Family" was published by James Weaver with the assistance of Carl Bennett and many other Yarian family researchers. Though the precise location that Mathias came from is not known, the conclusion was, by all indications, he was of German heritage. Mathias spoke German, settled among Germans, belonged to a German Lutheran church, married a German, and gave his children German names. Not Armenian.


Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

It's very interesting to see the progression of a surname through the old records. Great job tracking the name back through the generations and the country.

Janice said...


Admittedly before reading your article I had no idea at all of the great number of people of Armenian ancestry who immigrated to the United States.

I found an interesting web site ...

You've done a remarkable job with your research.


Anonymous said...

Becky, The words of Sam Walter Foss come to mind [from "The Carven Name" out of BACK COUNTRY POEMS. Boston: Lee and Shepard. 1894]:

And strange unto their fancy seems
This dreamer from a land of dreams,
Whose life, unknown for praise or blame,
Has left no record but his name. . .

Willie Puckerbrush

Miriam Robbins said...

Isn't it incredible how the stories get so twisted around and discombobulated over time?