How can a surname like Stertzer be cohamim? My deceased father, born in the US, and grandfather born in Austria were both certain of their priestly lineage.How can this be when we are told today that Cohen, Khan Kaplan etc. are the names more logically associated with the lineage?
The family names do not have anything to do with lineage. In many cases, they were assigned by the (nonJewish) government in order to keep their records. In some cases, the names were assigned in order to officially recognize a family nickname, such as Rothschild for the red shield in front of the house. In other cases, they were arbitrarily assigned by a government clerk in revenge for an inadequate bribe, such as Goldwater (Goldvasser). The Austro-Hungarian empire arbitrarily divided an area into four quarters and named everyone Schwartz, Weiss, Klein, and Gross depending on where they lived.
While many people registered with names associated with being a kohen, others were given names based on profession, place of origin, or even personal nicknames.
For example Stertz
German: from Middle High German sterz ‘tail’, possibly a nickname for a short, stocky, and clever man.
We had three families in our shul named Cohen. One was a Kohen, one a Levi, and one a Yisrael.