What I found helpful is to remember that (1) the name on the passenger list will the name they used in "the old country," which can be different from the name you know them as and (2) it is very likely that you will run into spelling differences, especially when looking at indexes that were created by some reading the original and creating the index entries. This seems to be especially true when looking for relatives who came to North America from Eastern Europe, but can even apply to "simple" names, as the person who spoke their name to the ship's representative probably had an accent that may not have been understandable. Add to that the fact that many could not spell their names, or they spelled them in their native language, adds to the "mistakes" on the passenger lists.
To attempt to overcome the first issue, work backwards. Find the person's death records which will hopefully lead you to their grave site. If their headstone has a Hebrew inscription, chances are you will be able to find their Hebrew name, which could lead you to the name they immigrated under. For example, I always knew one great-grandmother as Anna. However, after having her headstone translated, I found that she was Chana. That was a big clue to finding her immigration record.
Which leads to the next thing: find their immigration records. Even if you are not fortunate enough to get all their papers, whatever you can find could help narrow your search. I personally have had mixed results with these records, having all the papers for one ancestor and only index entries for another. For one great-grandfather, I discovered he had changed the family name (during his naturalization process), and once I discovered that it had been Pessis (not Pass, as known today), I could find the necessary passenger lists. But by using these "breadcrumbs," you can begin to piece together when and where they landed in North America. Finding the first papers, or their initial immigration records, could also provide a date and place where they arrived. Caveat: what I'm referring to here are the papers and documents for immigrating to America, as I do not have experience with Canadian records, so I don't know specifically what is on them, how to find them, etc.
Once you can narrow the focus of when your ancestor arrived, check for all name spellings in all available databases for all reasonable ports of entry. Don't forget that there were many ports of entry during different time periods. So, you'll need to know which ports were used during the time frame you are searching. For example, I (wrongly) assumed that all my ancestors arrived at an Eastern U.S. port. After being stymied for a while with one great-grandfather, and by doing some history research, I pieced together that, since he ended up in Alabama, he might have come in from the Southeastern U.S., and sure enough, he arrived through Galveston, TX, something no one in our family was aware of.
Oh, one other thing I just thought of: if you have extended family (uncles particularly) who immigrated, do the same type of search for them. I found a 2nd great grandmother through by locating her son, my great-uncle.
Best of luck. Finding passenger records can be a challenge, but is very rewarding once discovered.
Karen Gwynn <kwgwynn@...>