The Yetholm Gypsies
Jeffrey also raises the subject of the dilution of the gypsy race by intermarriage.
'A number of the men have become labourers, and, mixing in the population, acquire better habits, and marry out of their tribe. The gipsy girls, too, are beginning to leave their tribe, and to engage as domestic servants and bondagers, and occasionally marry farm servants... There can be little doubt that the original race is fast falling off, and that ere many years run their course, the oriental blood will have ceased to flow. The days of the gipsy have passed away.'
Whilst this may be true in essence, most married within the tribe, with the others tending, in the main, to marry members of another tribe or family. The men would also marry non-gypsies, and bring them back into the group. Marrying within too close a genetic grouping tends to lead to in-breeding, but there would not seem to be any evidence of that, or at least no more than within any small community in the earlier times, when the nuclear family was much bigger and stationary.
Early marriage seemed to be the norm among the gypsies. It has been said that there were very few illegitimate births, as most of the girls were married before their teens were over. Divorce was not common, but when it happened, it was accepted that the man could remarry, but that the woman could not. The customs of divorce seem to have been based, to some extent on the middle-eastern custom of repeating 'I divorce thee' three times , but in the case of the gypsies, a pre-requisite was the killing of a horse or foal. As good horses were hard to come by, and therefore expensive, divorce could not be taken lightly.
The ritual burning of the property of a dead gypsy was carried on for many years, but eventually stopped, as the belief that it speeded the departed's journey to heaven died out. The wakes or send-offs for the dead were great feastings, with huge amounts of food and drink consumed.
Their links with religion are to say the least in many cases rather tenuous. It seems that they thought it quite normal to have their children baptised because they considered that having an unchristened child would bring them misfortune. As a group they had claimed the shelter of religion in their early wanderings, but by the 19th century could not be said to be in any way religious. They took advantage of what the Church of Scotland deemed to be 'irregular weddings'. These are recorded at various places, particularly close to the Border, as it was quite normal, for those whose weddings might have been opposed by their families, to cross the border and marry in Scotland. The most famous place has to be Gretna Green, but Coldstream was another place which was very popular for such weddings.
Many gypsies, since they were fortune-tellers, were extremely superstitious and saw no conflict between their superstition and organised religion.