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In some countries nobility is a subject of public law (Belgium, Finland, Netherlands, and in Spain only regarding titled nobility). In other countries this is not case, and then nobility may have organised itself in one or more associations in order to have an institution to handle nobiliary issues such as those mentioned above. It is therefore of utmost importance for every noble family to define and clarify under which legislation, or under which set of rules or regulations whether codified or not, they are a subject.
Nobiliary law is a complex and multi-faceted subject. It is often necessary to do extensive research in order to establish which rules apply to a specific noble family. A starting place can be to collect relevant literature from (or about) country where family is known (or believed) to have been ennobled (or first recognised as noble). This may be done by searching many antiquarian bookshops available on Internet, for keywords such as "nobility" or "nobiliary" in book title. Sometimes a specific Internet site will be dedicated to nobiliary law (such as Italian http://www.dirittonobiliare.com).
Perhaps most important thing to remember about nobiliary law is that it is not same as public law. It may well be possible, according to national legislation, for a non-noble person to assume a noble surname, but this does not make them members of nobility. A person can only be a member of nobility if they are so according to nobiliary law, whether this is in harmony with public law or not.
Jan-Olov von Wowern lives in Stockholm, Sweden, and is the head of the Swedish branch of the von Wowern family, dating back to its founder who was born around 1090 and made a Marquis in 1141. He is active in European charitable and nobiliary work. Visit his page at http://www.findyournobleancestors.com and download a FREE chapter from his book.