Thanks to the pioneering work of researchers Humphrey Toms and Reg Walter, many Yeo lines have been traced back to a Thomas Yeo who died in 1658. They included him in a pedigree compiled in 1966 but were not able to identify his parents.
Thomas’s will had been written in 1653 and was proved in London during the period when church probate courts had been abolished under legislation brought in by the Commonwealth government and marriages were conducted by a Justice of the Peace instead of a church minister.
In his will, Thomas is described as a yeoman. The will of his son Thomas Yeo refers to an inheritance at West Town – a group of farms a little to the west of the village of Woolfardisworthy, which lies between Bradworthy and Hartland – and makes bequests using wording that shows it was a tenancy. West Town was part of the extensive estate of Hartland Manor, so Thomas and his son would have been tenants of this estate.
Margaret Yeo, Thomas’s first child, was baptised at Woolfardisworthy in 1614 and it is likely that his sons Hugh, William, Thomas, James, Philip, John and Arthur were also baptised there. Because some of the early Woolfardisworthy parish registers were destroyed, no record remains of these later baptisms, nor of Thomas’s marriage or burial. The origins and previous surname of his wife Mary are likewise unknown and we have no record of her burial. Her will, proved at Barnstaple in 1663, bore the Yeo coat of arms, and it might be significant that Thomas’s will did not. Was Mary perhaps a Yeo by birth?
There has been much speculation as to Thomas Yeo’s origins. The most likely line of descent is that he was a grandson of Nicholas Yeo of East Bridge, Stratton.
Another suggestion is that his parents were Thomas Yeo and Dorothy Heard, who married in Bradworthy in 1563 – some 95 years before the death of Thomas Yeo of Woolfardisworthy and too early to be his parents given the typical life expectation at that time.
Other researchers have suggested that Thomas might have been the eldest son or a younger brother of William Yeo of St Mary Major, Exeter. This William Yeo was baptised in 1584, his siblings between 1585 and 1591 and his children between 1612 and 1621, so these dates are not a good fit.
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