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Goerke Recognized for Decades of Anthropologic Research and Teaching

California Missions Society Association awards long-time College of Marin Anthropology Instructor who has spent 15 years transcribing and translating records from missions

Kentfield, CA—Feb 27, 2012—Betty Goerke, author and instructor of anthropology and archeology at College of Marin for more than 30 years, has received the California Missions Society Association President’s Award for her very detailed work on the San Rafael Mission records which will serve as a valuable research tool for future California historians.

The award was presented Feb. 18 at the annual CMSA conference held at San Rafael Mission. It recognizes her “outstanding contributions toward the study and preservation of California's missions, presidios and ranchos.”

Colleen Hicks, executive director of the Marin Museum of the American Indian, said she often refers museum visitors to Goerke’s research on the region. “The current award was to acknowledge her significant contributions advancing the understanding and appreciation of the past here in Marin County,” Hicks said.

Goerke has dedicated much of her career researching native history. She has meticulously studied the records of mission priests who recorded milestones in the lives of Coast Miwok Indians. A dedicated group of students have also helped through the years to transcribe and translate, line by line, the faded handwriting of various priests and made presentations at the recent conference. They often met weekly around Goerke’s dining room table working together to sort through the more difficult texts to transcribe. They tallied the births, baptisms, marriages and deaths of people at the mission, creating detailed spreadsheets. They transcribed descriptive notes that had been scrawled in margins of old ledgers and led to new insights into the activities of the priest and the native population.

“We had a chance to bounce ideas back and forth,” Goerke recalled. “It was a very intellectually stimulating process with which to engage students.”

In addition to numerous research papers and lectures, her research led to the publication in 2007 of Chief Marin: Leader, Rebel, and Legend, the story of a native leader who defied the mission.

“I have found it fascinating to find out about the lives of the Coast Miwok people and to find out how the missions ran,” Goerke said. “I realized soon that there were some mission fathers who were kindly and thoughtful and others who were not. Each fact we found opened a door which led us to something else. It’s never ending.”

Some students who have worked on this project gave presentations related to their work on the mission records. Nancy Miller, a former student of Goerke has been involved in the research since 1997. She focused on the travels of Father Juan Amoros, a priest at the San Rafael Mission. Alexander and Jenna Coughlin, both descendants of the Coast Miwok people, who joined the project more recently, made presentations about native marriage traditions and the female chief during the mission era.

Miller, who later graduated from UC-Berkeley with an English degree, said she was surprised her lessons in physical anthropology informed other areas of study.

“Betty taught us techniques for observing the behavior of animals at the zoo,” Miller said. “These techniques also work when analyzing behavior of fictional characters in novels, which is useful in English class. Also, Betty taught us a great deal about human evolution, and now I read with interest newspaper accounts of the latest developments in that area. "

Miller continues to help Goerke review the transcriptions one more time before they are presented to the tribe, the missions and the CMSA.

Goerke has received numerous teaching awards over the years, including the College of Marin Outstanding Teacher Award. She retired from College of Marin in 2004 but has continued teaching at the college, most recently with the College of Marin Community Education program. She has earned accolades for her archaeological fieldwork as well which has taken place in California, Colorado, Greece, Holland, Kenya, Austria, China and India and has authored numerous articles, papers and books and produced several videotapes, including Archaeology: Questioning the Past.
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